She looked beyond. A white picket fence surrounded the front lawn and walkway to the entrance of the two-story beach house echoing of past summers leisurely spent on Long Island. The porch and shutters freshly painted white, the shingles painted pale blue, the doors and windows left open to give the house a spacious and airy sense of freedom.
Every summer of her childhood Celeste had spent in a bathing suit, shorts and barefoot trekking beach sand onto polished hardwood floors. Nautical reminders placed throughout the house: ocean oil paintings, dolphin and whale etchings, a glass coffee table with a driftwood bottom, even a nautical lamp or two; the inside of the house a reflection of life and its immediate environment.
Celeste ran free in those summer months. The beach released the winter shackles from the all girl's boarding school attended the rest of the year. Here in this house a free-spirit lived. She gave up innocence on her four-post bed; the smell of lavender, salt-air, Polo cologne and the warmth of a blond haired, blue eyed lifeguard name Colin. Here she surrendered to one of life's pleasures.
She smelled fresh lemons, could taste lemonade, and heard the sounds of memories hitting the shore. Her mother played piano and sang along with her compositions while her father talked stock market, smoked cigars and drank cognac with his cronies. Celeste smelled the grilled fish and felt the summer breeze. She remembered searching the beach for seashells arranging them in jars around the house. The beach held her youth, her passion and her first physical connection. If she closed her eyes, she could almost feel Colin there with her today.
It was time. Celeste emerged from her car with the heaviness of the task that lay before her; the wind chilled the air and danced through her curly red hair. She pulled the black leather bomber jacket closer around her body. A density of mist shrouded the yard and seemed to hang over the For-Sale sign placed in front of the white picket fence.
Celeste needed to decide what furnishings to send home to Connecticut, what to have stored, and what to sell or give away. She never married or had a family, but instead traveled the world as a photojournalist. A life she enjoyed. With the photo equipment unloaded from the car, she'd capture once again the ambiance of childhood; the house, dunes, and beach below. A sadness and concern about the sale of the house was feasible, but she felt the house needed a family. She returned less and less each year. The house held too many memories of childhood like ghosts from the past they lingered and haunted.
"Hi, Celeste," Jeanne called from behind her.
"Hi, Jeanne, I didn’t expect to see you here today." Celeste though slightly irritated by the interruption still felt happy to see her vivacious friend. Jeanne still wand thin and beautifully sleek in her thirties as she was in her teens. Now a savvy Real Estate agent, she was one of Celeste's oldest friends. Jeanne had it all; the business, husband, and two wonderful kids, while Celeste had adventures. Both women wanted to make their mark on the world and each had in their own way.
"I came to place the For-Sale sign in front of the house. This is a great piece of property, Celeste. It wouldn't surprise me if it goes quickly." Jeanne held out her hands for Celeste to take. "You look like a female version of Indiana Jones."
Celeste laughed, "Thank goodness my life isn't that exciting. But let's hope you're right about the property moving quickly. I appreciate you're handling the sale for me. Do you have time for a cup of coffee?" Celeste took her hands.
"No, sorry I can't. It's a shame you don't want to hold onto the house, Celeste. I know it holds memories." Jeanne and Celeste looked toward the house.
"There really isn't any reason to keep it just for me. This place should have a family. It'll take me a few days for me to finish here, then I'll be out of the way and you can show it."
"That's fine, take as long as you need. I have to run. Call me if there's anything I can do. How about coming over for dinner tonight? The kids and Frank would love to see you." The two women walked to the car and Jeanne climbed in behind the wheel.
"Thanks for the offer, Hon, but not tonight. We'll get together before I leave town though, I promise," Celeste back away from the car.
"I'll hold you to that." Jeanne waved as she drove off.
Celeste took the camera equipment up to the house. The house was a sanctuary for her parents in the same way the home in Connecticut was a retreat from her busy life. She'd been away in Europe on various assignments for over a year. This was her first visit back to the beach house.
When she entered, the first thing she noticed was the clean smell of lemon and linseed oil. The maid service still used the same cleaning agents her mother first insisted upon and now she insisted on too. It amazed her certain scents could evoke a special memory even after all these years. She placed her equipment and jacket in the entrance closet, kicked off her shoes and proceeded to the kitchen. She hoped the groceries she ordered had arrived.
In the kitchen, she picked out a nice bottle of chardonnay, then placed brie and fruit on a plate for a snack. On her drive from Connecticut, she didn't stop and hadn't thought of food. As she uncorked the wine and setup a tray to take into the front sitting room, she realized her hunger.
She settled on the family's white Italian sofa and gazed out the bay window. The mist began to dissipate and soon the sun would break through changing the tone of the day. Celeste felt her spirit lift. Taking a bite of strawberry, she felt it prick her tongue, tasted its sweetness, lapped at its juices, and remembered a summer long ago. She and Jeanne with a few other friends picked strawberries from one of the farms near Long Island Sound. The group was fired for eating more strawberries than collected. Hands and mouths red with juice had left no defense. Colin had come for a visit at the picking site and Celeste fed him strawberries. That summer was a long memory of cookouts, dances, bonfires, boat sails, horseback rides, and first love.
Celeste looked around the room. All the memories of her youth were tied to this house and anchored her to this side of the world. With everywhere she'd been since, all the memories she made since, none stirred her quite as much as the memories made here during those times. This house provoked such nostalgia. Unfortunately it was where her mother chose to come to die. Yes, the house held sad memories as all houses do with years of living, but the sad times weren't her focus. Celeste left the sad behind a long time ago.
After the snack, she went into the downstairs office for a note pad, then settled down to take inventory of the house and decide where everything would go. The piano, a soft concerto played through the air of the house remnants of the memory of her Mother. She entered the piano on the Connecticut list along with all the things that held special importance. As she worked through every room in the house making notes, she knew the decision to sell was a good one. Most of her Father's possessions were given away years ago. What Celeste's Mother saw fit to keep, Celeste would also keep.
The day passed quickly. By four in the afternoon, Celeste returned to the kitchen for a cup of tea. She decided to leave her bedroom until the last possible moment just too many memories and she wasn't looking forward to revisiting them. The ring of the doorbell interrupted those thoughts. She left the water to boil and went to answer the door.
"What are you doing here?" She stared once again into ocean blue eyes, noticed the broad shoulders could still fill a doorway.
"I saw the car out front and I wondered who was here. I like to keep an eye on things." He said, and noticed she still couldn't hide anger it flared out like the red hair on her head in all directions.
"Don't concern yourself. I'm only here to clear out some things." He was too handsome, she thought; no one should be that handsome after all these years. His face chiseled strong with that thumb print dimple in the chin.
"It's good you're selling the property from what I understand you're hardly here." His eyes drank her in; she filled out a pair of jeans nice and the silk blouse looked soft and feminine. She was always a classic beauty with wild green eyes.
Before she asked him what business it was of his whether she was here or not, the whistle for the kettle blew along with the kitchen's fire alarm. Celeste turned and ran toward the kitchen, but a hand grabbed her arm and suddenly she was behind Colin.
"Don't!" He placed hands on the door checking for heat, pushed it open and entered the kitchen with Celeste on his heels.
"Get out of my way it's just the kettle. I put it up for tea." She turned off the burner and opened the back door, then watched as Colin opened a window.
"Well Ms. Logan, I see your cooking skills haven't improved with time." Colin gave her that smile. The one she fell for years ago.
"I happen to be a very good cook now." She raised an eyebrow daring him to go on, then brushed at the red curls. "And another thing what business is it of yours whether or not anyone is ever in this house?"
"I'm an officer of the law here, Celeste. It's my business what goes on around this town." He felt smug, until he looked into those incredible green eyes. "Would you like to see my badge?" He flashed the smile, stuck hands in pockets and rocked back on his heels.
"I thought you played cop in Rhode Island." She gave him her best smirk.
"I thought you were off photographing the world."
"I'm still photographing the world."
"I'm still policing it."
"Do you have time for a cup of tea? If I can manage not to burn it that is," she smiled.
"Sure that would be fine. I have questions." He sat down at the table. The same chair, same place he sat years ago. He was in love then, but she wasn't. He watched now as she stomped barefoot around the kitchen.
"What questions? Have a seat, oh, I see you have." She pulled the kettle off the burner and poured water into the teapot. She busied herself with cups and biscuits setting them down on the table.
He waited until she sat down. "For starters how long do you think you'll be here?" He looked across the table at her.
"Maybe a week. Why?" All her friends lost track of him when he moved to Rhode Island. Not that she monitored him, but she heard things now and then.
"Because the world isn't as safe as when we were children and the nearest house is a quarter mile up the road. If you are out here, I'll see a patrol car comes around." He didn't like the fact she was here by herself, but there was no need to let her know.
"I suppose I should be grateful to the police department for consideration.” She looked into those ocean eyes. "What else do you need?"
"Why didn't you answer my letters after?"
Her head rose at the quiet anger in his voice. "What letters? I never received any letters." She felt the old emotion rise.
"I sent you letters for months at the Manhattan address." He ran hands through his blond hair.
"I wasn't at the Manhattan address after." Celeste watched as shock appeared in his eyes.
"Where were you?"
"At college, I decided on a West Coast college." She poured tea in the cups while trying to control the shaking of her hands. Damn, she thought, I don’t need this now.
"What about our baby? Did you abort our baby or give it away?" He clenched his hands, controlled his anger, but he felt the anguish surface. And knew she read it on his face.
"Colin, I did neither. The awful truth is I miscarried at school. I didn't have to make a decision you see. And the first chance I had, I left for the West Coast." She felt resentment rise. "What do you care anyway? You didn't want the baby."
"You never gave me a chance to say what I wanted. You told me and I didn't know what I wanted, then when realized you were gone. I'm sorry our baby died." He reached across the table for her hand.
She pulled back instinctively; once burned twice shy.
"You didn't say anything when I told you. You just stood there and that pretty much said it all." She waved a hand in the air. "Doesn't matter, ancient history now, let's not dredge it up." She took a sip of tea to calm.
"I always wondered. I was only twenty. It was a shock. I'm sorry I didn't react the way I should have. Jeez Celeste, I was a kid. The next day I came here, you were already gone. I sent letter after letter." He looked at her pleading.
"I was young too, only eighteen." She whispered. "Colin, I don't want to talk about it anymore. It happened a long time ago and it all worked itself out. Let's let it go."
"I just wish I had known."
"It wouldn't have made a difference." She sighed.
"Maybe not, but I should have been there for you." He turned the tea cup around in his large hands.
"Doesn't matter. Now if you don't mind I have work to do." Celeste rose and began to put dishes in the sink. "Do you remember the way out?" she said over her shoulder.
"Show me the way." Colin's voice sounded tired.
Celeste walked Colin to the door. She felt déjà vu; he would walk out of her life again for good. After all these years, it still hurt her; she didn't want him to go.
"I never asked Colin, did you ever marry." She tried for nonchalant.
"I was married for ten years. I have a son, Jesse. He's seven and a great kid."
"Were you divorced?" Celeste looked into his eyes and waited.
"No. My wife Sandy died five years ago." Colin's eyes never left hers.
"I'm so sorry, Colin." Celeste reached for his hand. "That must have been very difficult for you. The loss of Mom was difficult enough for me. I can't imagine how hard your loss is for you and Jesse."
"At the time it was very hard, but it has been five years and we've managed to get our lives back on track. The move back here has helped. Jesse likes it and my family is here to help." He noticed they were holding hands, it felt right, it felt familiar.
They looked at each other, neither said a word, neither would remember who made the first move, and neither would care
Copyright 2006 Joyce Tres All rights reserved.