Second week of December, I couldnâ€™t believe it was here. I couldnâ€™t believe I was here, the company Christmas party at the pier. This was where my comfortable little world started to unravel last year, and in two weeks it would be a new year. My resolution to myself would be to turn the page on that comfortable little â€˜marriedâ€™ mindset and this
|Second Week Of December by Jan Thorn|
horribly uncomfortable last year. I scanned the room from my safety zone by the window and watched my co-workers partaking in â€œholiday merrimentâ€ together, ugh -- so phony I could vomit. On Monday there would be plenty of water cooler talk about who-goosed-who, and worse, but I was determined not to be at the center of that controversy this year. My husbandâ€™s infidelity with Joy, the buxom, borderline raunchy, fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants accounting admin, in the adjacent and vacant dining room and the subsequent fall-out, as her belly expanded and my marriage dissolved, had been enough to keep the rumor mill hopping for more than the first half of the year. Thankfully, Wanda quit before delivering my husbandâ€™s illegitimate child and the divorce was finalized before the birth certificate was issued. It had been a banner year, but it wasnâ€™t the kind of banner you wanted to fly. â€œYou okay?â€ Kate asked quietly as she approached with two large glasses of chardonnay. â€œFine, just reminiscing.â€ â€œDonâ€™t,â€ she advised as she handed me the oversized wine glass, â€œyou look somber.â€ â€œI am somber.â€ â€œWell, donâ€™t be, this is supposed to be a happy, c-e-l-e-b-r-a-t-o-r-y event.â€ she emphasized â€˜celebratoryâ€™ by hanging on each syllable. â€œIf youâ€™re not happy, people will talk, thatâ€™s the last thing you need.â€ â€œOh, you donâ€™t have to tell me about that. But after the year Iâ€™ve had, if Iâ€™m too happy people will talk too. I donâ€™t need any more extracurricular headlining.â€ She looked at me and nodded, â€œyou know, youâ€™re right. Youâ€™re damned no matter what you do. So, donâ€™t get drunk and donâ€™t kiss or sleep with anyone tonight.â€ She reflected on what she just said and took a sip of her wine, â€œhowever, also keep in mind that frowning is very bad for your skin and youâ€™re no spring chicken,â€ she pointed her finger at me, â€œso you better be careful.â€ â€œOh, gee, thanks for the advice and encouragement. Youâ€™re a real peachâ€ â€œAnytime, thatâ€™s what friends are for.â€ Katie and I were great friends, had been since grade school. She was the one who recruited me to this position ten years ago when I told her I was looking for a new job. There had been plenty of times during my 12 years at Hobbs and Johnson that I had been grateful to have her so close, but never so much as this past year. Her friendship had been my saving grace on just about every level. If it werenâ€™t for her love, support, honesty and humor I probably never could have survived the failure of my marriage and the simultaneous marring of my professional reputation. â€œIf I duck out for a smoke you think people will talk?â€ I asked factiously. â€œMost definitely,â€ she answered as seriously as she could. â€œYouâ€™re too much.â€ â€œNo, seriously.â€ she nodded her head toward the window, â€œLook at the weather, itâ€™s down pouring, AGAIN.â€ I turned to look, she continued, â€œwho wouldnâ€™t talk about someone standing outside smoking in that! Torrential downpours â€“ no sane person would do that, so it must be a sign of lunacy, desperation or extreme depression.â€ â€œNo kidding.â€ It had been raining for a week, but not just sprinkles, down pours. Deep down, in the place in your heart that truly has no â€˜outsideâ€™ voice, only raw emotion, I blamed it on Maggie. Maggie, my Bassett Hound, my companion through EVERY event of the last 13 years had passed away the week prior. It started raining right after she died and it pretty much hadnâ€™t stopped. G-d knew my heart was hurting, I knew the sky was crying for me. â€œIf I was going to wait for the rain to stop I would have quit smoking altogether by now,â€ I said. â€œThereâ€™s a thought.â€ Kate was never shy about her contempt for my smoking. â€œBe right back.â€ I grabbed my coat from the back of my chair and slithered out the door. I practically hugged the building for shelter from the rain, but when youâ€™re out on a pier in driving rain there is really no such place and December rain, in New England, is unforgiving â€“ it was cold! â€˜Maybe I should consider quitting smoking as a New Yearâ€™s Resolutionâ€™ I thought to myself. Kate, for one, would be pleased with that. But not tonight. Tonight, right now, I need a smoke. There were some barrels stacked at the end of the far wall of the building that housed the restaurant. They were more for ambience than storage, I assumed. I also assumed, or at least hoped, that they would provide some shelter from the wind so I headed that way. When I got there I wedged myself as close as I could in the space where the barrels met the wall and reached into my pocket for my cigarettes. Thatâ€™s when I remembered my lighter was dead. Dead and floating in the sound where I deposited it during a bit of an emotional outburst after the seaside toy disposal ceremony I had performed for Maggie just prior to the Christmas party. Of course I didnâ€™t have matches, who carries matches anymore? Damn it, I cursed myself. Now I would have to go all the way back into the restaurant for matches and probably abandon my mission. How many times could I come in and out of such a driving rain without making a mockery of myself? I stood there for a minute lost in frustration from my own lack of foresight. I always smoke when I drink and I always smoke when Iâ€™m stressed. I am always stressed at offsite work-social events. There is so much pressure to be on your â€˜best gameâ€™ socially. Itâ€™s so easy to play the corporate game when you can hide behind titles and regulations, always remaining â€˜politically correctâ€™ or at least most people do. Itâ€™s how you fare socially, without the office buffer, that most people would notice and/or comment on. This is not my best hand. This evening was a â€˜stress smokersâ€™ trifecta â€“ affairs, alcohol and office politics -- and I came without a light! Like a runner attending a marathon without sneakers, a baseball player going to the World Series without his glove or a fisherman attending a tournament without a rod! I was definitely pissed at myself. Then I saw him. At the other end of the building, barely visible in the dark but for a few shards of light from the restaurant windows, I could see the silhouette of a man. From his posture even at this distance it was easy to decipher that he was a much older man. From what I could see of his outfit he looked like a fisherman, but, then again, so did I. I could see smoke fighting to rise against the rain as he looked out across the water. â€˜If he is smoking he must have a lightâ€™ I thought to myself. Boy, a few drinks and I still hadnâ€™t lost my edge. But, on second thought, itâ€™s December, maybe it was only his breath I saw. Regardless, I started slowly toward him. With every step I fought the rain, yet the wind nudged at my back pushing me through. As I got closer I could see he was dressed for these elements, in a yellow rain slicker, black rain trousers, rubber boots and a wide-rimmed fisherman-type hat. Probably just a nice old guy trying to enjoy a cigarette to get away from his crowd, like I was hoping to do. I approached him from behind. I feared startling him in the dark, in the rain and on a pier â€“ I mean, what are the odds of striking up a conversation with a total stranger under these extreme conditions. Really, what were the chances of not startling him â€“ slim to none. Unfortunately, there really was no other option to approach from, â€œâ€™scuse me,â€ I said gently from a bit of a distance, hoping to catch his attention. He continued staring out across the water, even though there was next to no visibility. He didnâ€™t acknowledge my presence. He probably couldnâ€™t hear me from this distance especially with the rain falling on his hat and the wind blowing past his ears. â€œExcuse me.â€ I stated more loudly, more clearly. Still no response or reaction of any kind, but as I got closer I could see he was in fact holding a pipe in his hand. â€œExcuse me, sir,â€ I tried again. Almost yelling into the wind. â€œhello, Miss.â€ He finally replied without shifting his gaze from the water, â€œsome weather weâ€™re having here,â€ his voice was almost a whisper, but the wind carried it directly into my ear. I could hear him as clearly as I might face-to-face on a dry, sunny day. â€œYes, it is,â€ I responded to his comment on the weather, â€œI apologize for disturbing you. I was hoping to borrow a light.â€ â€œA light?â€ â€œFor my cigarette.â€ â€œOh,â€ he paused for a moment. â€œYes. Of course, a light.â€ The wind carried the scent of his pipe tobacco directly into my nose and mouth, filling me with a warm feeling that I couldnâ€™t describe. He started fishing around in his pocket, â€œHowâ€™s yer party?â€ â€œSir?â€ â€œYer party â€“ inside?â€ â€œOh,â€ I had to think. To me parties are fun events, this was more of a professional obligation. He probably should have asked how my obligation was and he would have gotten a quicker response, I thought to myself. â€œFine,â€ I responded to him, out loud. â€œJust fine?â€ he sucked on his pipe, the smoke billowing from the bowl colliding with the falling rain as he waited for me to respond. I didnâ€™t respond. â€œWhereâ€™s yer date?â€ he asked coldly. â€œNo date tonight,â€ I responded too quickly and possibly with regret, although I hoped not. â€œPretty girl like you? Iâ€™m surprised.â€ It almost felt like I was being scolded for not having a date! Where was that light already!? Deep down I knew I shouldnâ€™t get snarky with him. Here I am disrupting his peace, plus him being my elder and all, but I had to say it, â€œSir, you havenâ€™t even looked at me. How would you know if I were or werenâ€™t pretty?â€ He paused, sucked on his pipe and blinked a few times before he responded, â€œI seen ya, Iâ€¦.oh, here we goâ€¦â€ he pulled a box of matches from his pocket, looked at it for a moment and handed them to me, still without looking at me, â€œyou can keep â€˜em. They are from a very wonderful placeâ€¦magical, if you will.â€ They were already soaked, but I glanced at the cover. They were from the Merry Weather Inn in Townsend, Massachusetts. Obviously there was no point in even trying to light them in their condition and in this weather. I gave them one more glance before I put them in my pocket. â€œThank you. Well, you have a nice night.â€ I turned to leave. He remained exactly as he had been not taking his gaze off of the dark water. â€œYep,â€ he drew out the response so that small word filled the widening gap between us. I had already started to walk away but it was going to bother me so I turned back. â€œSir?â€ He was ignoring me again so I moved closer than before. Instead of just seeing a shadow in a fishermanâ€™s slicker I could see from a closer range that I was looking at a much older gentleman, older than I originally thought. His skin was like leather â€“ very tan and tight -- weathered with age and environment. Thick white whiskers coated his cheeks. His teeth, from what I could see, were very bad, maybe from a life of heavy smoking or drinking or chewing tobacco or all of the above, accompanied by age and poor hygiene, I assumed. It didnâ€™t really matter. I had no intention of kissing this man. â€œSir?â€ I was louder, closer and more deliberate. â€œYes, love,â€ his voice still only a whisper and as clear as a bell ringing beside my head, â€œya donâ€™t have ta shout I can hear ya.â€ â€œThen why donâ€™t you look at me?â€ My tone almost demanded an answer. I probably sounded like a child but I didnâ€™t care. Our exchange had been so short but I was incredibly frustrated by his combined forwardness and nonchalance toward me under such extreme conditions. Maybe the extreme conditions were both environmental and emotional but he wouldnâ€™t know that â€“ I was angry that he wasnâ€™t more of a gentleman toward me in this rain. I think. I could tell already he was stubborn like a mule and I wasnâ€™t going to let him make me feel this way Not him, a total stranger â€“ in the rain, â€œ I said, then why donâ€™t you look at me?â€ â€œI donâ€™t have ta. I can speak without lookinâ€™, canâ€™t ya hear without watchinâ€™?â€ I thought for a few seconds before answering, â€œWell. Yes, of course.â€ â€œFeel what yer sayinâ€™. Listen with yer heart and believe in yerself. You wonâ€™t have ta spend so much time lookinâ€™ for answers.â€ â€œYou said â€“ â€œ â€œI know what I said.â€ â€œI just want to know when or where youâ€™ve seen me? I donâ€™t remember you â€“ and Iâ€™m sure I wouldâ€¦â€ He cut me off again, â€œSure ya would.â€ he kept staring ahead then looked straight up at the black sky right into the streaming rain, â€œSo ya want to know when I seen ya?â€ his question was almost threatening. He brought his face back down and resumed his gaze across the water, but it was clear by now that he wasnâ€™t looking at anything in particular. There was nothing to see. With nothing but darkness before him, he was staring into the past. Without shifting his gaze from the darkness he continued, â€œI just have. I ainâ€™t new.â€ He sucked on his pipe again and then he finally turned to face me. I didnâ€™t anticipate what I saw so after all of my initial concern it was me who was startled. He stared right through me with a crystal blue eye on one side of his face and a foggy glass eye poked at me from the other. â€œand neither are you.â€ He said this last part very matter-of-factly. â€œListen ta me Missy. Life ainâ€™t easy and it ainâ€™t calculated â€“ not by you and me at least. Stop lookinâ€™ for the answer ta every question and the reason fer every occurrence. It ainâ€™t in front of ya or in yer hand, itâ€™s in yer cards and you ainâ€™t holding them neither. Things happen for a reason and it ainâ€™t your reason, but itâ€™s a reason all the same. So learn ta go with it, feel it. Enjoy it, if thereâ€™s joy ta be found in it. Anâ€™ if there ainâ€™t, then find the message, the lesson, anâ€™ learn it. â€˜Cause one day you may be busy talkinâ€™ when ya should be listeninâ€™ anâ€™ next thing, well next thing isâ€¦what it is.â€ He turned his half stare from me and I knew he was thinking that â€˜next thing isâ€¦you have a glass eye.â€™ But thatâ€™s not what he said. â€œMother nature â€“ sheâ€™s a funny gal. Even she answers to a higher beinâ€™. Unpredictable, strange anâ€™ curious, you pick the words but she means business, so respect her. She speaks anâ€™ the wind blowsâ€¦if sheâ€™s whisperinâ€™ it might be a nice night fer a moonlight stroll but when sheâ€™s mad â€“ better hold on ta yer hat. She cries anâ€™ rain falls. Point is, there ainâ€™t no coincidences. When the storm is over the grains of sand, the leaves, heck even the trash receptacles will be where theyâ€™re meant ta be. So you, you need ta live more, plan less. Sometimes there are no answers that you need to know.â€ he took a single step to the right so his back was to me, then he took a long pull on his pipe. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. â€œGâ€™night missy.â€ With that my mouth snapped shut. Had I just been dismissed? I turned to walk away then I thought I might try asking him what actually happened to him, to his eye, maybe I was supposed to ask him that. But when I turned back again he wasnâ€™t there. I looked to the end of the pier but couldnâ€™t see him. He definitely had not passed me on the dock so I ran to the spot where he was and looked into the water. It was choppy because of the weather, but I couldnâ€™t see anything and I certainly had not heard anything splash. I stood there for a minute, but even as those 60 seconds or so churned past, I was standing on the pier alone. By the time I got back inside the restaurant I was SOAKED. I headed straight to the bathroom and tried to dry my hair under the hand drier. Katie came in, â€œThere you are! Are you all right? I have been looking all over for you.â€ â€œYeah,â€ Even I could feel my distraction, â€œI was talking to some guy outside. Iâ€™m not sure if I should be concerned.â€ She cut me off, Iâ€™m sure she was thinking of our earlier conversation about office-party politics, â€œdonâ€™t be silly, you have no worries. You talk to whoever you want.â€ Her expression changed from concerned mom to eager friend, â€œWho is he? Is he from H&J? Is he here? Is he cute? Talk to me.â€ â€œAh. No. I didnâ€™t mean concern like that, I meant because he just, like, disappeared.â€ â€œDisappeared? Like, into the crowd?â€ â€œNo. I donâ€™t know. I donâ€™t know who he is, heâ€™s not from H & J. Heâ€™s not from the party. I honestly donâ€™t know who the hell he is, just I guy I asked for a light. Iâ€™m sorry, Kate, I donâ€™t really want to discuss it.â€ I donâ€™t know why I didnâ€™t want to discuss it Katie and I discuss everything but I guess it was just beyond bizarre and I still didnâ€™t know what to make of it, of him. AND I still hadnâ€™t gotten to smoke which I really needed even more NOW than I did before. â€œOkay. Whatever. Be that way, keep all the cute guys for yourself, â€œI could tell she was annoyed even though she was trying to pretend she wasnâ€™t. Truth was I really didnâ€™t know how to process what had just happened, I needed time to think. â€œI will, thanks,â€ I gave a wink, hoping she would forget she was annoyed. â€œWell, we exchanged Secret Santaâ€™s â€“I have your gift at the table,â€ she was pulling me back in the direction of our table. When we got back to the table there was a square box sitting at my place. â€œhey, you had my gift in the car! I recognize that box, â€œI joked. I immediately recognized the wrapping paper because Katie and I had purchased it together when we were out Christmas shopping over the weekend. â€œLucky for you, I got you,â€ she smiled and shrugged. â€œOpen it,â€ she said as she gently nudged the box toward me, â€œMerry Christmas, Janie.â€ Underneath the paper was a box from the San Francisco Music Box Company. The box contained a snow globe which contained a figurine of a basset hound frolicking in the snow. My eyes immediately welled up. It was my Maggie and she loved playing in the snow. I jumped into Katieâ€™s lap and threw my arms around her. â€œThis is no $10.00 Secret Santa gift,â€ I squeezed her so hard I suspected her eyes bulged. And you know who gave it to you so I am no longer your â€œSecretâ€ Santa. Have a Merry Christmas â€“ you deserve it.â€ At that moment, safely nestled in the arms of my closest girlfriend I looked up and saw the shadow of the fisherman watching through a nearby window. I am not very hairy but whatever hair there is on my arms immediately stood up, â€œThere he is,â€ I said louder than I needed to considering we were embracing. â€œWho?â€ she turned to follow my panicked exclamation. â€œThe guy I was talking toâ€ I pulled away from her. â€œIâ€™m glad to see heâ€™s not in the water,â€ I half-mumbled to myself. â€œWhat?â€ Kate was wearing a look of complete and utter confusion. â€œThe guy you were talking to outside? Where?â€ she was trying to follow my face for direction. â€œOutside,â€ I pointed, â€œhe was just watching us from outside the window.â€ She turned to look, â€œwhere?â€ â€œheâ€™s not there now.â€ I ran outside again, Katie followed, but he was nowhere we could see. She looked at me with a concerned expression, â€œJanie, thatâ€™s just creepy.â€ â€œI know. I agree â€“ my whole encounter with him was on the bizarre side. Remember, I said I didnâ€™t want to talk about it?â€ â€œYep.â€ â€œOkay. So letâ€™s not.â€ I watched for him to appear at the windows for the remainder of the evening but never even caught a glimpse of him again. Profoundly curious I even went back to the pier early the next morning thinking that he might be part of the morning hubbub of fishing people moving about their business. The rain had stopped so I walked around for a bit. I even asked a few people who were working in the restaurant and around the pier. I described him, I really wanted to know who he was. Unfortunately, no one knew him, or anyone fitting that description. I honestly believed that the glass eye would have made him memorable, but I was wrong. Christmas came quickly after that night and so did New Yearâ€™s. I kept my snow globe next to my bed so I could see it every day and kept my new yearâ€™s resolution to myself. Ultimately my resolution was not to quit smoking as I had assumed it might be when I entered the storm that evening, but to try to live better and more and to live in the moment â€“ not worried about the future or fixated on the past. As the mysterious stranger had preached as I exited the storm and unknowingly entered my next chapter that evening. With the new year I started a diary and a diet and started exercising and eating better. I made inspirational or life quote cards and placed them in various places around my apartment. Reminders to stay focused on me and my goals for self-improvement. By Spring I had become someone, physically, that even I didnâ€™t recognize. I felt better. For the first time in a long time â€“ I felt and I made an effort to question less. I wanted to trust in the process of my life unfolding as suggested, in so many words, by the old man that night. August 15 For as long as I can remember the first week of August every year Katie and her cousins rent a place at the beach in Massachusetts on the cape. This is the area where their grandparents first settled when they came to this country from Ireland. A family reunion of sorts, if you will, it is always a great excuse to get away for a bit. I have been tagging along for so many years that it feels like itâ€™s my family, I truly hope the feeling is mutual. I really love the quiet relaxation with my best friend and her cousins who I have become quite close to. This year it was a very old, very lovely, two-story house right on the beach in a sleepy resort town on Cape Cod. Our first night there we co-opâ€™ed our cooking skills, ate an extravagant yet casual meal, and drank far too much wine while we caught up on life since weâ€™d been together last year. There was a lot of chatter, some serious, some not, a handful of tears and an ample amount of breathtaking belly laughs. Laughter, oh, it felt so good to let go. The following day we all recovered lazily in the warm sand. That night we ate out and retired relatively sober. In the middle of the night I was awakened during the night by a barking dog. The winds were very heavy (â€œMother Nature must be talkinâ€™,â€ I told myself in the old manâ€™s gruff voice) and it rained sporadically (â€œand cryinâ€™â€ If I believed everything I felt and heard on that pier in December). I rolled over and pulled the covers tight under my chin, an instinctive maneuver to try to ward off or at least protect myself from whatever was making the dog bark but eventually the barking lured me out of bed and over to the window. Hesitantly, I looked outside into absolute darkness, the only illumination at all was by moonlight. I could hear the barking but could not locate the actual source on the ground, in the dark. Poor dog was so distressed but I could not see much of anything, much less her, against the back drop of the water and beach grass on the dunes. Maybe she was just barking at the wind whistling between the grass reeds. I crawled back into bed and listened â€“ between the wind blowing past the old windows, itâ€™s whistle through the blowing reeds and the steady rhythm of the barking below I was eventually lured back to sleep where my dreams collided into a storm of puppies, mermaids and grumpy old men. The next morning at breakfast I asked if anyone knew whose dog had been barking during the night. Strangely no one else heard her and of course no one had any idea who she might belong to. The rental property came equipped with touring bicycles so later on that day Katie and I rode into town to shop and pick up some groceries. On the way back I spotted a primitive, hand-painted sign for â€˜Puppies.â€™ Remembering the barking dog, I decided to see where the sign might lead me. Maybe these puppies were close to our beach house. Maybe it hadnâ€™t been one distressed puppy I heard, but, a litter of cackling babies. I told Katie that I wasnâ€™t ready to head back, and if she didnâ€™t mind I would like to ride around and scope out the area some more. I insisted she didnâ€™t have to join me, she could continue back to the house, and I would catch up with her. She looked a little surprised, but didnâ€™t fight the right of first refusal against more exercise than needed so a few minutes later I was on my own to follow my curiosity. On the next block there was another sign, similar to the first, offering â€˜Puppies.â€™ I followed the trail of signs back through and out of town and a few miles until I reached what I did not know at the time was the last sign. This sign was propped against a beautiful sign introducing Townsend, Massachusetts. I stopped in front of the sign which had an image of an old beach front estate in the background behind the town name. â€œThis must be the townâ€™s landmark,â€ I thought to myself, â€œbeautiful,â€ I said out loud as I took in the details of the beautiful structure and the fine landscape. The name felt so familiar. I looked around to get my bearings. Something on the ground caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. When I looked down there was a chewed up dog toy, a ball, on the ground beneath the sign. It was just like my Maggieâ€™s favorite red ball. She used to chase it down the beach and into the water then bring it back for another round of the same. And for pretty much her entire life she was tireless when she played with that ball. Which is why I retired it into the sound just before going into the Christmas party in December. I felt Maggie needed her ball so she could have fun chasing it in and out of the waves in her next life. I paused for a moment and picked up the strangely familiar ball, I studied the bite patterns. The ballâ€™s rough texture in my hand made me miss my girl even more. â€œCould it be?â€ I asked myself out loud, â€œno way. There must be millions of chewed up dog toys in the world.â€ I looked at the heavy, tattered red rubber ball in my hand, â€œItâ€™s the right color,â€ I thought. â€œNahâ€ I dismissed the notion again. â€œToo far away to drift over here and far too bizarre if it had,â€ I concluded quickly. Then, without even thinking, I slid it into the basket on the front of my bicycle and turned to peddle back in the direction of the house. I sat on the porch that night after dinner with a glass of wine in one hand and that old, red ball in the other. I thought a lot about Maggie and our life together. Maggie had been with me through so many events in my life. I thought about the events of my life leading up to that night. That night was the very anniversary of the night everything started to unravel I thought about that night on the pier and that bizarre encounter with the mysterious old man. He had only spoken to me that one time yet, Maggie and that man, had both had such an impact on my perspective today. My life has transformed so much since. I was going to get it together â€“ eventually â€“ but that old man, that creepy, peculiar old bugger and his words. Those words resonated in my head for days, eventually they took root there. Soon they worked a path through my psyche into my core where they vined their way through my limbs to the outside and lead me on the path to a place where I felt safe to let go. Let go of the past and the pain it had embedded in my heart and contaminated my spirit with. Letting go is the first step to true healing, at least thatâ€™s what my hundred dollar an hour therapist tells me. Now, I was staring at the ball in my right hand, glancing at the smoky wine glass in my left â€“ seeing his cloudy glass eye and his deeply wrinkled, weathered skin. Suddenly it hit me. I remembered where I had seen the name Townsend that was on the road sign today. â€˜Townsend is the name of the seaside village where the â€œmagicalâ€ Merry Weather Inn is,â€ I whispered to myself. Suddenly the horn of the nearby ferry bellowed loud and long. I hadnâ€™t heard it before, not since we arrived, maybe not ever, but it was foggy on the sound, maybe they were trying to dock. Or maybe someone, perhaps my girl Maggie, was telling me to get off my bum and look for the Inn. I am not one for witchcraft, fortune tellers or things that go bump in the night. Iâ€™m practical and calculated, even though I am trying to curb it some. Even I have to admit that sometimes coincidences that canâ€™t be anything but chance occurrences donâ€™t seem so coincidental. That said, I was not about to abandon my wine or cozy seat on the porch to hunt, in the dark, for an â€œenchantedâ€ Inn. What is an enchanted Inn anyway? Even in fairy tales there have to be two willing participants or at least two characters of the opposite sex for any â€˜enchantingâ€™ magic to happen. I was here with my best friend Katie and her cousins Tracy and Jack. Jack is out-of-the-closet-one-hundred-percent-gay and Tracy is not so the odds of enchanting relationships blooming on our vacation was already not working in my favor. That night I was awakened by the barking dog again. She barked for at least a half hour before I even got out of bed to check on her. Once again, when I looked, I saw nothing. Eventually I turned on the bedroom light thinking that the light could stream through the window to illuminate the ground below the window, no such luck. Shortly after the light went on the barking stopped. I still could not see anyone or thing against the back drop of the water and dunes. The puppy was obviously called back home. With nothing further to investigate I went back to sleep. I brought it up the next morning at breakfast and, again, no one else had heard her. â€œMust have been the windâ€ Tracy offered, whistling a slow, long whistle, meant to mimic that wind as she added more coffee to everyoneâ€™s coffee cups. â€œI think I know the difference between wind and a barking dog, Trace.â€ â€œMaybe the neighbors have a dogâ€ Katie offered. â€œI thought of that last night but it still doesnâ€™t look like that place next door is occupied. No cars in the drive and no lights â€“ not even a porch light. Besides, it was too close. That dog was right outside, below my window.â€ â€œI doubt that. No one else heard it Janie, it couldnâ€™t be that close. Barking for as long as youâ€™re saying and no one heard it, not a chance.â€ â€œI heard herâ€ I responded defensively. â€œI just donâ€™t see it,â€ Katie responded, â€œmaybe it was a dream.â€ â€œI got out of bed Katie. I heard it while I was awake. It wasnâ€™t a dream.â€ â€œKate has a point. No one else heard it and no one SAW it Janie, not even you.â€ Tracy added. â€œHow much wine did you drink last night?â€ â€œNot enough to start making shit up, thatâ€™s for sure. But thanks for the implication and the vote of confidence.â€ â€œI know!â€ Jack perked up, â€œMaybe it was the ghost of Maggie dropping in for a treat!â€ â€œKiss off, Jack!â€ I hissed. â€œIâ€™m only trying to help,â€ he responded, with his hands raised as if he was offended by my response and trying to avoid being struck. â€œI wasnâ€™t dreaming. Iâ€™m not crazy. I wasnâ€™t drunk and Iâ€™m not making this up. I know what I heard. It woke me from a sound sleep, TWICE.â€ â€œSorry Janâ€ Katie sounded remorseful â€œmaybe we are just more sound sleepers than you are.â€ â€œMaybe we drink more,â€ Jack added under his breath without raising his eyes from his coffee, â€œyou might consider trying it some time.â€ This caused Tracy to spit out her coffee. â€œYou guys are rude,â€ I picked up my coffee, stormed out of the kitchen and retreated to the porch. I sat on the love seat with the overstuffed cushions again, where I had been last night, and watched the ebb and flow of the ocean as the waves crashed and rolled across the shoreline. Without taking my gaze off the water, I forced my hand in between the cushions to retrieve the ball that I had stuffed in there last night, it wasnâ€™t there. I pushed deeper and moved my hand back and forth, nothing. I got up, pulled the bottom cushion off and dropped it onto the porch. The back cushion followed suit, still nothing. â€œGuys!â€ I called into the house, â€œGUYS!â€ I called louder. â€œWhatâ€™s wrong,â€ Tracy was first, then Katie. â€œDid one of you take the ball?â€ I asked excitedly. â€œThe ball? â€œKatie repeated. â€œYes, the BALL.â€ â€œThat skuzzy thing you picked up on the side of the road yesterday?â€ Tracy confirmed. â€œThat would be the one,â€ I responded in disbelief. â€œWho would want THAT thing?â€ Jack replied. â€œI would,â€ I snapped. â€œNot me,â€ Jack said, with his hands up, again, in a dramatic resistance. â€œMe either,â€ Tracy added. â€œAdd me to that,â€ Katie said, â€œItâ€™s all yours.â€ â€œWell, it was here last night and now itâ€™s gone,â€ I was scanning the surrounding area with my eyes as I announced this. I couldnâ€™t believe it. â€œMaybe the wind blew it off the porch,â€ Tracey offered in support. I looked at her. Iâ€™m sure my facial expression showed how stupid a suggestion I thought that was but I only allowed, â€œIt was stuffed into the cushions,â€ to escape my lips. â€œOhhh, I know.â€ Jack perked up, â€œMaybe your phantom puppy came and retrieved it after it woke you from a sound sleep last night. Or maybe it was barking so you would come out and play ball with it,â€ Jack continued obnoxiously. â€œSorry I asked. You can go back to your breakfast.â€ And they did. I abandoned my coffee mug on the porch and hopped on a bicycle. Deep down in the place where you CANâ€™T lie, even to yourself, I was starting to think there was something more to the phantom barking dog and the coincidental ball, mysteriously found and just as mysteriously lost. I rode back to the place where I had seen the sign posted for puppies yesterday but the puppy sign was no longer there. I continued to the location of the second sign, it was also gone, but the sign for Townsend, a permanent fixture, remained. I stood there for a minute, in front of the sign, the bike propped between my legs, not sure of what to do next. Yesterday there had been signs to follow â€“ literally. I had been following the signs for Puppies and then I happened upon Maggieâ€™s ball or what appeared to possibly have been Maggieâ€™s ball. Now what? Less than a day later, there were no signs, no ball â€“ the only thing that remained was the sign for Townsend. I considered that maybe everything yesterday had been leading me to this point but I freaked out when I saw the ball and ran home. Subsequently the dog came back to call me into town again. While I pondered this I started to hear bells from the ferry, either this is a sign or the ferry dock is very close, or both. But what are the odds that that ferry keeps tooting and ding-a-linging when Iâ€™m thinking about this place? Well, maybe it toots and ding-a-lings all the time. I thought about how silly I was trying to find a sign in every occurrence. - I needed to go check out Townsend. Without another momentâ€™s hesitation I rode the mile or so into town. It was charming. A quaint seaside resort town with small novelty shops lining Main Street. I stopped when I found a coffee shop. It was deserted with the exception of a worn out looking waitress, in a worn out looking uniform and a short order cook sitting near a grill behind the counter doing what looked to be a crossword puzzle in a book of puzzles. A single patron was reading the paper over his breakfast at a table in the back. I sat on a stool about midway at the counter and she immediately put a mug down in front of me, â€œcoffee?â€ It was one fluid motion, the question and the mug, it wasnâ€™t a challenging feat, but her easiness surprised me. â€œPlease.â€ â€œYou visiting?â€ she asked. This was clearly a drill she had performed on too many occasions over the years. â€œI am.â€ I heard the reader turn the page off his oversized newspaper behind me. â€˜Must be the Timesâ€™ I thought to myself. Everyone loves the New York Times, despite the size of the pages. â€œWhere from?â€ I opened my mouth to speak, but she cut me off, â€œlet me guess.â€ â€œNew York,â€ the cook announced from his stool behind her. â€œFloyd!â€ She screeched. â€œGive me a break Claire, sheâ€™s got the accent!â€ he barked back. I could feel my cheeks flush. â€œThis is a nice little town,â€ I added awkwardly. I was never a very smooth small-talker. â€œWe like it here,â€™ she responded as she put a menu down next to my coffee, â€œWhere are you staying, honey?â€ â€œActually Iâ€™m visiting with some friends in Loyton.â€ â€œLoyton? Kind of far for a coffee.â€ â€œI was out riding my bike this morning and I happened upon the sign for Townsend. I had heard about it once before so I stopped to look at the sign and I heard the ferry ding --â€¦â€â€“ â€œFerry?â€ interrupted me mid-sentence. â€œâ€¦a-ling, so I thought I might stop and check out Townsend.â€ â€œWeâ€™re sure glad you did, but there â€˜asnâ€™t been a ferry running here inâ€¦â€ she was thinking, â€œhelp me out here Floyd, how long â€˜as it been?â€ The reader shifted his paper again. â€œLeast, probably, I dunnoâ€¦15 years,â€ Floyd eventually offered. â€œSounds â€˜bout right, 15 years or so,â€ she agreed. â€œBut I could swear that I heard --- nevermind.â€ â€œMust have been something else cause it wasnâ€™t no ferry, â€œshe said matter-of-factly, â€œwould you like some breakfast, you must be hungry?â€ she asked kindly. â€œNo thanks, coffee is great for now,â€ she acknowledged with a nod and turned to do whatever it is that she does when sheâ€™s not delivering food or topping off coffee. â€œSo, thereâ€™s no chance that I heard a ferry horn, either here or in Loyton?â€ I threw out to no one in particular. Floyd answered, â€œno chance,â€ I could feel the reader peeking around the paper to see who the idiot was who was going on about a non-existent ferry, but when I turned to spy back he had resumed his position with the paper covering everything but his hands. â€œNot any time recently honey and certainly not today. But, Iâ€™m curious â€“ Iâ€™ve lived here my whole life and weâ€™re a pretty small gig, you know,â€ Claire started. â€œYes, from what I can see this is a quaint New England town,â€ I responded politely. More small-talk awkwardness. â€œSo, what did you hear about us?â€ she finished. â€œWell, I heard that itâ€™s very nice. Specifically, the Inn. I shouldnâ€™t say it like that, perhaps you have many Inns here â€“ especially with it being a beach community. Would you be able to tell me where I might find the Merry Weather Inn in particular?â€ â€œThe Merry Weather Inn? Huh. Curious you should ask thatâ€¦â€ The man with the paper cleared his throat loudly, she turned her head to look then she excused herself with the pot of coffee. There was some whispering in the corner behind the newspaper, she returned a moment later. â€œWhy is it curious that I asked that?â€. â€œFor someone who just happened into town, it is.â€ â€œWell, I kinda didnâ€™t just happen into town, I â€œhappenedâ€ into the sign but once I found the sign I came here to check out the Inn. Funny part for me is that I didnâ€™t expect to find Townsend at all â€“ ever. but I had heard of the Merry Weather Inn. So. I thought since Iâ€™m here I might check it out.â€ â€œAre you one of those,â€ she turned toward the back, â€œwhat do you call them, Floyd?â€ â€œWho?â€ he responded, sounding annoyed this time. â€œPeople who buy things, houses and buildings, you know, then â€“â€ â€œInvestors,â€ he interrupted her. â€œRight, investors. You an investor? Interested in buying it?â€ she asked me. â€œBuying it? NO. I was only curious to see it. I didnâ€™t know it was for sale.â€ â€œTo see it, youâ€™re a few years too late. Itâ€™s been closed to patrons for, hmmm, must be almost five years now. You are welcome, as anyone would be, to go see the property, but the house is unoccupied and for sale.â€ â€œIâ€™m not interested in buying, not now anyway and probably not anytime soon. What happened? Why is it closed? Someone once told me it was â€˜Magicalâ€™ â€“ â€˜enchantedâ€™ was actually what he said.â€ â€œReally? Enchanted?â€ she leaned into the counter and lowered her voice to just above a whisper. â€œWho told you that?â€ she seemed genuinely interested and possibly amused. â€œOh. Just a man I met.â€ I answered as coolly as I could. The page turned again behind me. â€œThe Inn itself closed to patrons, oh, gosh, I canâ€™t believe it but it must be about five years ago when Merry, the Captains wife, died.â€ But I think itâ€™s pretty safe to say it had lost its â€œenchantingâ€ quality quite some time before. I bet the man you met was old. â€œYou could say that,â€ I replied. â€œBack in its hay day they say the Merry Weather Inn was something else. But only an old-timer would remember that,â€ Claire informed me as she added hot coffee to my mug. â€œI guess the Merry Weather was named after this captainâ€™s wife?â€ â€œThis captain was Captain Bill Townsend and indeed, it sure was. Captain was born and raised in that house with his sister Caroline. Itâ€™s a magnificent place, right on the beach. Caroline died in childbirth when she was in her early twenties so when the Captains parents passed away the place was left to him alone. Didnâ€™t really do him much good, he was a seaman. Seaman donâ€™t have families, they have the sea and Mother Nature â€“ the house was left virtually empty. He hired help to maintain the place for him year round in honor of his parents, he didnâ€™t want the place to fall prey to vandalism and/or dis-repair . He would come back to it whenever he was in port, wasnâ€™t more â€™an several times a year though, but that was what it was. One December when he was in his early thirties he came home around the holidays, no doubt â€“ after some months at sea. When he arrived he found John, his groundskeeper, and his whole family had been staying in the house as in, living there, full-time.â€ â€œWas he angry?â€ I interrupted. â€œhe had a right to be, but it was more inviting to come home to than an empty house.â€ â€œNo doubt.â€ â€œLong story short, Johnâ€™s daughter was Meredith. Although the captain was ten years her senior the Christmas Spirit brought them together and they fell in love under the Christmas tree that year. Meredith and her parents stayed in the house with the captainâ€™s blessing after that, in fact, legend states that he insisted they stay there. Anyway, on December 13th the following year, when he returned home again from sea, they were married. They lived in that house. They raised four children there. When the children were grown they opened the Inn so that the house would always be full and happy. Almost 5 years ago, Meredith passed. They had been married almost fifty years. Two years ago, on December 13th the Captain joined her on the other side.â€ â€œNo kidding!â€ â€œIt would have been their fiftieth wedding anniversary that day. Word is that he died of a broken heart.â€ The waitressâ€™ demeanor grew somber. â€œBless him â€“ them. He must have been a very old man.â€ â€œhe was, almost 85. His health was good, until the end, thatâ€™s where the broken heart theory comes in. Thereâ€™s a picture of him on the wall over there if you want to see him for yourself,â€ she pointed to some frames on the wall. I walked over and studied the pictures in the frames. â€œThatâ€™s him, second pictureâ€¦fishing jacket,â€ she added. I sucked in my breath. â€œAre you alright?â€ â€œYeah, sure, Iâ€™m fine.â€ I responded. Truth was, I wasnâ€™t sure that I wasnâ€™t going to faint. There as clear as the nose on my face, in the picture on the wall in front of me, stood the old man I met at the pier. â€œWhat happened to his eye?â€ I immediately asked. â€œhe never really talked much about it, not to me anyway. They say it happened after his sister died,â€ she replied. â€œWait. You knew him â€“ Captain Townsend?â€ â€œSure, everyone here did. Captain Bill Townsend is a legend around here.â€ â€œCaptain Bill Townsendâ€ I said it slowly as it unfolded in my mind, â€œas in, Welcome to Townsend?â€ â€œPut this place on the map, he was a very powerful man. Wouldnâ€™t know it looking at him, but he had a force within him.â€ â€œA force? What does that mean?â€™ â€œA force. He had a strong, no nonsense type of personality. When he made a plan, he researched the requirements and got the job done. When he made up his mind to do something, thatâ€™s what he did and although he was a child of the sea and a manâ€™s man he was kind and gentle.â€ â€œThen why was he so grumpy?â€ I was really just asking this to myself, but I said it out loud without thinking and by the time I realized it had been heard, it was too late. â€œGrumpy? He wasnâ€™t grumpy? Did you say you knew him? I donâ€™t remember hearing you say that you knew him.â€ The page turned again behind me. â€œNo, I didnâ€™t know him. He reminds me of someone I met once. But, he doesnâ€™t look happy.â€ â€œhe was pensive and thoughtful â€“ just missed his partner in the end but heâ€™s reunited with her now â€“ Iâ€™m sure of that.â€ â€œOn December 13th â€“ TWO years ago?â€ I asked. â€œYep. Right on their anniversary, really says something if you think about it. House hasnâ€™t been unoccupied ever since.â€ â€œYouâ€™re sure it was two years ago?â€ â€œPositive. Captains passing was big news around here. It will be two years this coming December,â€ she answered matter-of-factly. â€œWhy has the house been unoccupied? Where are the four children?â€ The man with the newspaper clinked his spoon on his cup for a refill. She responded without hesitation, but kept talking. â€œMiss, most young people donâ€™t settle around here when they grow up. The two girls, Caroline and Mary are both married with families. James is a writer, lives up north somewhere â€˜so he can think,â€ She made air quotes around the, so he can think, as she said it. â€œAnd William, their youngest, heâ€™s a professional man -- an attorney up in the city.â€ â€œAnd no one comes to visit the old house?â€ â€œApparently not,â€ She turned and eyed the reader in the back, â€œAnyway, itâ€™s for sale now. If youâ€™re interested in seeinâ€™ it, go up Townsend Road to the endâ€¦you really canâ€™t miss it.â€ I paid for my coffee and headed out. As I peddled up Townsend Road I grew more and more freaked out. December 13th was the date of my Christmas party last year AND the year prior. I stopped peddling at the top of the road when the Inn came into view. The drawing on the matchbox didnâ€™t do this place any justice. The estate was breathtakingly beautiful despite being really weathered. Even with the overgrown bushes, lackluster paint and tired shutters it was simple to see how truly beautiful it once had been. TLC thatâ€™s what she needed and I was sure whoever invests in her will restore her beauty. I walked around for a while poking here and there then went down to the beach to relax before riding back. By the time I passed through town again the coffee shop had closed and there was much more foot traffic on Main Street, people enjoying homemade ice cream and browsing the shops. I arrived back to the house late in the afternoon and was a little surprised, maybe even a little taken aback, that no one even mentioned my outburst this morning or the fact that I had all but disappeared for most of the afternoon. I guess I should be grateful, thatâ€™s the beautiful thing about good friends, they could overlook bat-shit crazy misbehaviors and still leave well enough alone like nothing ever happened. After a quick shower we prepared dinner, shared two bottles of wine, enjoyed a late night stroll along the beach and headed to bed. Eventually, with some coaxing, mostly from the wine, I shared my findings in Townsend. I even shared the story about Captain Bill and Meredith and the beautiful old estate by the shore. Of course, I conveniently omitted my â€˜chanceâ€™ meeting with the Captain last December on the pier in New York City from the story line. I understand from experience that some things are just better left unsaid. Katie and I would leave the next morning for New York if I kept my stories to myself I might still escape unscathed. I heard the dog barking again in the middle of the night but opted not to get involved, probably also with some coaxing mostly from the wine. Presumably the result would be the same anyway . December 12 Saturday morning, tomorrow would be the 13th, Bill and Meredith Townsendâ€™s wedding anniversary, the second anniversary of the Captainâ€™s death, tonight was my annual Christmas party. It had been a year of transformation for me, but as good as I am feeling in my new skin, Iâ€™m still dreading the obligatory hob-knobbing. I call Katie to confirm the time that I will be picking her up. Iâ€™m the designated driver this year, itâ€™s a two-man rotation and she drove last year. I still have several hours to ready myself and get to her so I throw on my overcoat and head toward my car. Now is as good a time as any to pick up my dry cleaning for tonight. On the way out to my car I feel a lump in the pocket of my coat and I pull out the box of matches from my encounter last year on the pier. How strange, I thought to myself, had I not worn this coat since December 13th of last year? The matchbox, it was tattered, like its namesake, but it was in my hand. The Merry Weather Inn, Townsend, Massachusetts, I could barely make out the image of the Inn, â€œthe heart of Cape Codâ€ was the logo under the Innâ€™s name. Four and a half hours later I have just passed the closed coffee shop and am pulling onto Townsend Road. I donâ€™t know why but somehow when I looked at that matchbox in my hand I knew I had to come here. Today. When I arrive I am surprised to see the bushes are neatly manicured and there are lights on inside the house. There is a car parked out in front with Massachusetts license plates. The estate has been sold and just as I assumed over the summer, it is receiving the TLC it deserves. Without hesitation, and I hope without detection, I start to turn the car in the dead end. As I start back down the road, something runs in front of my car, I slam on the brakes and the car slides on a patch of ice. The car stops with a loud bang, and I have just enough time to shout, â€œDamn it!â€ before my head slams into the steering wheel. Out of the corner of my eye I can see a man run out the front door, he clears the porch in one leap, the three steps leading up to it in another. He is down the drive before I can focus my visual of him. Before I even know what happened heâ€™s at my window. Although I had trouble focusing as he dashed out to my car it was very clear that he is tall, well dressed and very good-looking once he is perched at my window. â€œAre you all right?â€ â€œHiâ€ I was horrified and started rambling as only I can, â€œI am so sorry. I didnâ€™t mean to disturb you. When I drove up the road I just assumed, like a fool, that no one would be here -- still. Congratulations on your new home. Itâ€™s beautiful.â€ â€œAre you okay?â€ â€œIâ€™m fine. Again, Iâ€™m sorry, Iâ€™ll be out of your way.â€ Inside I hope I donâ€™t sound as nervous as I feel. â€œTake a deep breath. Youâ€™re not in my way,â€ he responded kindly. â€œBut,â€ I gestured toward the house. â€œRelax. Breathe,â€ he coached, calmly. â€œYouâ€™re not going anywhere right now anyway. You banged your head.â€ â€œWhat?â€ I was genuinely confused. How could this fine specimen of man possibly Know that I had just banged my head?â€ I toyed with my hair just right where my head hit the wheel, â€œHow do you â€“â€ I started to ask. â€œYouâ€™ve already got a bump there,â€ he leaned in and gestured making circular motions, like a crooked halo, toward my forehead. â€œYouâ€™re safe,â€ his voice was very reassuring, â€œplease relax.â€ I followed his directions, his voice was caring, his tone was very persuasive. â€œThank you. Youâ€™re very sweet,â€ I responded. Somewhat lost in confusion and an awkward lust for this stranger. â€œThank you.â€ â€œThank me?â€ I crashed outside your house. â€œYes.â€ We sat awkwardly for a moment looking at each other, wordlessly. â€œWonâ€™t you come in,â€ he offered breaking the silence. â€œOh, I couldnâ€™t.â€ â€œOf course you can, I asked.â€ â€œBut â€“â€œ â€œBut nothing, you must be exhausted. Youâ€™ve had a long trip,â€ he was so self-assured. â€œMe?â€ I paused, â€œHow do you know that?â€ At that moment he looked me square in the eye, pausing for a moment before answering, â€œI couldnâ€™t begin to explain, right now. I just know.â€ â€œI guess I just have to accept that answer although it sounds a little hokey.â€ â€œOkay. Iâ€™ll see if I can do better.â€ he looked out toward the beach and then gazed up to the sky. I canâ€™t say that I have seen many people gaze out into a dark sky and a dark sea for answers, but I did find it incredulous that I was experiencing the same event exactly a year to the date apart. When he looked back into my eyes he had a knowing look. Somehow when he looked out and up or looked out or up I donâ€™t know where the darkness offered his answer. â€œLetâ€™s call it an educated guess based on a number of valid and logical points. For starters I can hear your New York accent when you speak.â€ I had to nod my acknowledgement, â€œeasy point.â€ â€œSecondly, I can see the license plate on your car says New York.â€ â€œAnother easy point.â€ â€œI have never seen you here before â€“â€œ â€œAnd you know everyone here,â€ I interrupted. â€œI do not, but I would certainly remember a pretty face like yours,â€ he smiled and his left eyebrow went up ever so slightly. â€œAh, flattery. I didnâ€™t see that coming. Do you have any other tricks up your sleeve?â€ I chided. â€œPerhaps weaving?â€ he offered. â€œWeaving? A lost art for sure, now Iâ€™m listening.â€ â€œWell, allow me to weave this all together for you. New York accent, New York plates, an unrecognized face and a dash of magic; Iâ€™d say youâ€™ve had at least a three-hour drive,â€ he was obviously proud of his prowess. â€œI have to say, Iâ€™m impressed. Hi. My name is Janie.â€ I extended my hand to shake his. â€œWell, thatâ€™s very nice to know,â€ he sounded genuinely happy. â€œExcuse me?â€œ â€œHello Janie. Iâ€™m Bill. Bill Townsend.â€ â€œBill Townsend? So you did not just buy this house?â€ â€œThatâ€™s correct. Now wonâ€™t you please join me -- inside?â€ â€œAre you sure your wife wonâ€™t mind?â€ I asked. â€œIâ€™m sure,â€ he responded quickly. â€œMaybe you should check with her, it is Saturday night.â€ â€œMay I get in with you and ride up to the door? Iâ€™m only in house-shoesâ€ he raised his feet to show me. I looked down, â€œof course. Oh my goodness, you must be freezing!â€ â€œI suppose it could be worse,â€ he suggested as he climbed into the passenger side. We rode up to the door and I parked near his car in the massive drive. â€œI saw something run in front of my car back there, thatâ€™s how I lost control.â€ I offered. â€œI was afraid something like that might happen someday .. especially with all of the ice build-up at the end of the road,â€ he muttered the last part more to himself than to me. â€œExcuse me?â€ I was so confused. I had a terrible revelation, â€œOh my goodness,â€ I brought my hand up to my mouth, â€œdo you have a dog?â€ â€œWe do,â€ he smiled broadly, this seemed to please him immensely. â€œYouâ€™re not worried â€“â€œ He chuckled as he opened the passenger door, â€œIâ€™m certain the dog is fine. Letâ€™s go inside and we can check on her together.â€ I donâ€™t know what came over me, the impulsive drive to the cape â€“ with no plan, the exuberant reception, his good looks, his wit, his confidence. I accepted his invitation, â€œ I would love to.â€ The entrance to the Inn was an expansive foyer with a beautiful crystal chandelier. The inside was lavishly furnished and not in the least bit worn looking as the outside had been when I walked the property in August. We crossed the foyer into a large sitting room. There was a fire in the fireplace and the most magnificent Christmas tree stood, undecorated, in the center hall. As if was hypnotized I allowed him to remove my coat and hang it in the hall closet, then he placed my handbag on the table in the foyer. He put his hand on my shoulder, â€œare you okay?â€ I nodded my response, all the while taking in the amazing grace of the Inn and thinking about the warmth emanating from the space where his hand lay gently on my shoulder. â€œPlease come this way,â€ he guided me to the couch closest to the fireplace. I donâ€™t know why I wasnâ€™t frightened. On the contrary, his hand made me feel safe and protected, although I had never met him. I sat on the couch where he lead me, â€œIs your wife home?â€ â€œI havenâ€™t a wife,â€ his response was clean. â€œBut you said â€“ when I asked you outside if -- you said your wife wouldnâ€™t mind-â€œ â€œNo. You asked if I was sure my wife wouldnâ€™t mind .and my response was, Iâ€™m sure,â€ he smiled that delighted â€œgotchaâ€ smile he displayed for me outside only a few minutes ago, â€œIâ€™m sure of that because I havenâ€™t a wife. â€œ â€œIâ€™m sorry, I misunderstood,â€ I braced my arm on the armrest of the sofa for support. â€œI think I should go now,â€ I started to stand. He put his hand on my hand, â€œPlease donâ€™t. Iâ€™ve been expecting you,â€ he applied a gentle pressure too my hand and looked directly in my eyes, â€œPlease--â€ I looked down at my hand, where his hand was attempting to restrain me or at least slow my ascent, his eyes followed mine and he released the pressure, although he left his hand on mine, â€œ--hear me out.â€ â€œI donâ€™t understand whatâ€™s going on here.â€ â€œI know. But if Iâ€™m right, and I believe I am, you will,â€ he stood up and began to pace slowly in front of the fireplace. It was a minute or two before he started to speak but when he did it was the music of angels, in the form of words, that filled the grandiose room, â€œI had a dream last December 13th, my parents wedding anniversary. My parents were in it. My father was grumpy in my dream because they had gotten a dog and he is not a dog person. They visited me in my dream because they wanted to tell me to settle down. They were worried that we, my siblings and myself, would sell the house, this house,â€ he gestured the space around himself, indicating the walls all around. â€œApparently they worry that I will never settle down and that everything our family has built out here on the cape will be lost forever. They told me to hold on to the house and wait. They said that someone will be coming and that when she got here I should hold on to her. Hold on to her because she is the one and together we will fill this space, once again, with love. I am a practical man, as I was raised to be, so I didnâ€™t share this experience with anyone nor did I act on it. When the spring rolled around I decided to make a few calls to friends around town. I put out the word that if anyone came poking around about the family or the house they should phone me. After all, what did I have to lose? I got the call in August, you were here.â€ He sat down next to me and took my hand, â€œyou were here in August, werenâ€™t you?â€ â€œYes, I was.â€ I smiled shyly. â€œAnd you were asking about the Inn?â€ â€œYes, I was.â€ â€œAnd you told Claire that my dad was grumpy.â€ â€œClaire?â€ â€œYes, Claire â€“ the waitress at the coffee shop.â€ â€œYes, I did,â€ I giggled a little embarrassed thinking about my conversation with the waitress at the coffee shop. â€œYou were right,â€ he said gently. â€œAbout?â€ I asked eagerly. â€œHim.â€œ He pointed at a large portrait of a fisherman hanging over the fireplace, â€œmy dad. You were right about him being grumpy, he was! Not in general during his life, he was not grumpy, he was a hard-working man and very content with the life he had with my mom and us kids. But when my parents came to see me that night he was VERY grumpy. Well, when Robert called that afternoon,â€ â€œRobert?â€ â€œMy cousin, he was reading the paper in the luncheonette when you came in.â€ â€œOh, right, the guy I couldnâ€™t see who kept interrupting the conversation with gestures.â€ â€œYes, he was listening to everything. When him and Claire and good old Floyd-boy told me what you had said, or asked, I think, about my dad being grumpy, well, that was all I needed to hear. Those few words tumbling unknowingly out of your sweet mouth was all I needed to validate my dream. The dream was REAL! You were REAL! YOU WERE HERE!â€ I was nodding profusely overcome by excitement and validation because I knew too, I just hadnâ€™t been able to weave the parts together. â€œI immediately came down. I was here the day after you visited the coffee shop but you were gone. I even drove around Loyton, thatâ€™s where they said you were staying.â€ â€œI was. But I came to Townsend the day before I left.â€ â€œObviously I couldnâ€™t find you. When you didnâ€™t come back right away I packed myself up and relocated to the house. There was so much to do anyway between the grounds and the structure and the interior.â€ I looked around at my immediate surroundings, â€œwell it looks amazing.â€ â€œSo far, thank you. There is still so much that needs to be done. But I hear thereâ€™s plenty of time for thatâ€ â€œReally now? And where do you hear this from? Pray tell.â€ â€œIâ€™ve got great sources.â€ â€œI bet you do. Sounds like insider information if you ask me!â€ Bill was sitting on the sofa next to me. We both sat for a moment in silence, looking into the fire. Bill turned and looked straight into my eyes, again, â€œso here I am,â€ he took both of my hands into his, â€œand now here you are. And, oh, there is one more thing. Iâ€™ll be right back.â€ He disappeared through a door and down a hall. He came back a few minutes later with an absolutely adorable basset hound puppy with a big red bow around her neck. He carried her into the room and put her down so she could run up on me herself. No sooner had she made her way to me for a rub and scratch did she bow her head and drop the chewed up baseball from her mouth. Bill was standing beside me now â€œthis is Sandy. I told you she was all right.â€ We sat up all night, we both had so much to say. It was December 13th, we were together, at the Merry Weather Inn. It WAS magical! I will always remember that strange episode on the dock, my last December in New York: The old man with the glass eye, his words to me, the snow globe, the chewed up baseball and the box of wet matches all made sense.