142 Days Later #8: A Night Alone, Breakfast for One
Dinner and a Walk
A dinner of fried flounder, coleslaw, and hush puppies satisfied Jack’s desire for seafood. He followed it up with a walk on the pier. The end of the pier was occupied by king mackerel fisherman. Jack had never tried king fishing but he thought it looked like a rather complicated undertaking. Jack preferred his fishing simple, a couple hooks, a sinker, and some shrimp or squid.
About two-thirds of the way down the pier Jack found an unoccupied bench. He sat down and thought it would be nice if he had his fishing pole. His fishing pole, a rather nice one that Branden had given him for Father’s Day several years before, was is storage back in Goldsboro with the rest of the stuff from the garage.
You would think I’d have thought to bring my fishing gear with me to the beach,
Jack chided himself. I suppose if I don’t want to go all the way back to Goldsboro to get it I’ll just have to buy some more.
Since he didn’t have his fishing gear, Jack sat and watched the waves roll onto the beach. He sat there and watched until dusk began to settle over the sand and the lights came on along the pier. A glance at his phone showed Jack that it was almost nine o’clock. He slipped the phone back into his pocket and started to stand up when it vibrated to indicate he’d received a text. He settled back down on the bench, pulled the phone out of his pocket, and slid his finger over the screen to see who’d sent him the text message.
Wanda Checks In With Jack
Hi Jack. Hadn’t heard from you. Wondering how you’re doing.
The message was from Wanda. Jack hadn’t thought about her all day but smiled when he saw her name on his phone.
I’m OK. Bought some furniture for the house. Chillin’ on the pier now. About to head home.
Instead of responding with another text message, Wanda called.
“Hey Dub-Dub,” Jack said into the phone, using the nickname he knew she hated.
“How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?” Wanda said, sounding cross.
“At least one more time,” Jack kidded her.
Wanda stopped herself short of warning him again. Jack hadn’t called her Dub-Dub since before he'd gotten the phone call about Cheryl. Something in his tone, something that sounded almost upbeat, stopped her.
“It sounds like a day at the beach might have done you some good,” she said.
Jack gave that a moments thought before he replied. “I think maybe it did. Maybe being away from a place where everything reminds me of Cheryl is what I needed.”
As it hit Jack that he’d just said his dead wife’s name without tripping over it he felt a moment of guilt. Am I really starting to get used to her being gone? Isn’t that a good thing?
A hundred miles away in Goldsboro, Wanda could almost read his thoughts.
“It’s okay, Jack. It’s not like you’re forgetting her,” she told him. “But the hurt is starting to heal. The scar keeps it from hurting as much.”
“I suppose so,” Jack said. “But I still miss her so much. I go a little while and manage not to think about her being gone and then, bam, it hits me. I’ll never see her again.”
“It takes time, Jack,” Wanda said. “Be patient with yourself. You’ve been forced to start over but you’re strong and I know you’ll make it. And you know you can always call when you need someone to talk to.”
“I know Wanda,” Jack said. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “You’ve been a good friend through all this. I don’t know what I’d have done without you. Thank you.”
“I’ll always be here for you, Jack,” Wanda replied around the lump forming I her throat. “And, Jack. You can call me Dub-Dub if you want.”
“I would anyway,” Jack said, fighting back the emotion rising in his own voice. “You know that.”
“I know,” Wanda said softly. “Good night, Jack.”
“Good night,” Jack said, but Wanda had already broken the connection.
He put the phone in his pocket and looked out at the ocean. Night had fully fallen while he talked to Wanda.
“How do you know when you’re done getting over it?” Jack asked the dark waves rolling past the pier. “How do you know when it’s okay to stop being miserable and get on with your life?”
The waves didn’t answer him. They just crashed onto the sand.
Rise and Shine
Knowing he had to be sure and get up in time to get to the north side of Wilmington in order to meet his folks at Saint Mark’s for Mass, Jack set the alarm on his new clock-radio and on his cell phone. Then, when they went off, he tried to ignore both, to no avail. He dragged himself out of the very comfortable confines of his new bed, found the nicest looking clothes he could, and dressed for church.
Dressed for church in the summer at the beach didn’t mean quite what it did elsewhere. Jack’s attire consisted of a not-too-badly wrinkled gray golf shirt and a pair of light tan Dockers in a similar state. Embroidered on the left breast of the golf shirt was the mascot of the school Jack formerly taught at.
Jack decided that another helping of pancakes from The Sea Wren's Nest would be just the thing for breakfast. A short walk later and the hostess, Nancy, was seating him at a small booth made for two. From his seat Jack could see out the front windows, across Island Highway, to the ocean. It was a calm morning and ocean looked quiet and inviting.
His appreciation of the view was interrupted by the arrival of his waitress, a full-figured girl nearly as tall as he was.
“Hi,” she said. “I’m Corie and I’ll be taking care of you this morning. Can I start you off with something to drink, a cup of coffee maybe?”
Too late Jack realized he should have asked to sit in Naomi’s section. He glanced around quickly and didn’t see her. Maybe she’s not working today, he told himself.
Corie smiled at him. “If you’re looking for Naomi, she’s off today. She only works Friday and Saturday.”
“Oh, well, in that case, an iced coffee would be good,” Jack said. “Caramel, with one cream.”
Corie made a note of that on her pad before saying, “Are you sure you don’t want hot coffee and a glass of ice?”
Jack chortled. “Saw that yesterday, did you? No, thanks, I’ll let you bring it to me pre-iced.”
Corie went to the kitchen to prepare Jack’s iced coffee. When she returned and put it in front of him, she said, “Were those your parents you were with yesterday?”
Jack tried a sip of the iced coffee before he replied, “Yes, those were my folks.”
“Your mother looked familiar,” Corie said. “I used to see her come in for lunch with Miss Bernadine.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Jack said. “My Aunt Bernadine used to love the crab melts here.”
“I’ve seen you in here with Miss Bernadine, I think,” Corie said. Her face scrunched as she concentrated. “You were usually with your wife and kids. You have two kids? Did I get that right?”
Jack was impressed. “You’ve got a pretty good memory.”
“Miss Bernadine was kind of memorable,” Corie explained. “She talked about you and your kids a lot. I heard all about your daughter getting into Duke and your son making Eagle Scout.”
“It sounds like you and my aunt were friends,” Jack said.
“I like to think so,” Corie said. “I only knew her for a couple years. She’d always ask to sit in my section when she came in. I was really sad when she passed away.”
It dawned on Corie that she hadn’t taken Jack’s order, so she pulled out her pad and said, “Have you decided what you’d like for breakfast?”
Jack had been enjoying their talk and felt disappointment when Corie got back to business. He glanced at the menu but didn’t read it. He already knew what he wanted.
“I’ll have the double stack of buttermilk pancakes with turkey sausage on the side,” he told Corie. He sipped his iced coffee. “And this is very good,” he added, holding up the glass.
“I’m glad you like it,” Corie said with a smile. “I’ll go put in your order. It shouldn’t take long.”
Jack watched her walk toward the kitchen, noticing for the first time how her fitted yellow Crabby Stack t-shirt tapered into her tight fitting shorts, all serving to accentuate her fit build.
I wonder how old Corie is? Jack found himself thinking. Then he shook his head. She can’t be a day over twenty-five, you old lech.
While he waited for his pancakes, Jack was wishing he’d brought his Kindle. He’d noticed a decal on the door showing that The Sea Wren's Nest offered free Wi-Fi to customers. Looking around the restaurant, he noticed a stack of “Wilmington Star News” newspapers on the counter near the door.
Jack got up, walked to the counter, and asked Nancy, “Can I buy a paper?”
Nancy shook her head. “Sorry, no, they’re free to customers.”
Nancy grinned as Jack blinked and shook his head. “You don’t have to buy one, Mr. Callaghan. The papers are free to read while you’re having breakfast.”
“You’re funny,” Jack said as he picked up a paper. “Your talents are wasted here on the island.”
Nancy was still chuckling when he turned and went back to his seat.
Corie stopped by Jack’s table when she saw him sit down with the paper.
“I could have grabbed that for you,” she said.
Jack glanced around the dining room, gesturing vaguely towards Corie’s other customers. “You were busy. Besides it gave Nancy a chance to pick on me.”
“Your pancakes should be ready,” Corie said after casting a glare at Nancy, who shrugged and smiled. “Let me go check and see.”
The Question Not To Ask
When Jack was reading the paper, Corie noticed his wedding ring was on his right hand ring finger.
“What does it mean when a guy wears his wedding ring on his right hand?” Corie asked her friend Tiyana, The Sea Wren’s kitchen manager.
Tiyana gave Corie a quizzical look. “I think it means his wife died, or maybe he’s divorced. Why?”
“Oh, nothing really. I just noticed one of my customers has his on his right hand and it got me curious,” Corie said.
“That good-looking guy by himself who ordered this double-stack?” Tiyana asked, raising her eyebrow and setting the plate under the warming lights.
Corie stared at Jack’s plate and shrugged. “Maybe. Okay, yeah, him.”
“Coretta Irene Macaulay, don’t tell me you have a crush on a customer,” Tiyana teased.
Corie shook her head and made a noise somewhere between a cluck and a cough. “No, I don’t. I was just wondering about the ring. That’s it. That’s all.”
Tiyana leaned over the counter with a mischievous smile on her face. “Uh, huh. Okay. If you say so.”
“I say so,” Corie insisted. She picked up Jack’s plate and left the kitchen. “Besides, he’s got to be what, forty - forty-five anyway.”
The blush had mostly left Corie’s face by the time she set the plate of steaming buttermilk pancakes and hot turkey sausage on Jack’s table. “How are you doing on that iced coffee? Ready for a refill?”
If Jack noticed her agitated state, he didn’t show it. He picked up his glass of iced coffee and decided he’d be ready for a refill by the time Corie could get back from the kitchen with one.
“Yes, thanks. That’d be great.”
“Is there anything else you need right now?” Corie asked before leaving his table.
Jack shook his head, said, “No. I think I’m good for right now,” and dug into his pancakes.
Corie kept an eye on Jack’s glass of iced coffee to make sure he didn’t run out before she could bring him a refill. Technically, The Sea Wren's Nest didn’t give free refills on specialty drinks like flavored iced coffees but Corie figured her granddaddy wouldn’t give her a hard time about it this once. She thought she’d come up with a way to find out about the ring by the time Jack finished his pancakes.
“So,” Corie started when she went by to pick up his plate, “down here all by yourself this weekend?”
The pained look on Jack’s face let Corie know she’d treaded into a sensitive area.
“Yeah,” Jack said. “It’s just me. But not just for the weekend. I’ve moved into my aunt’s old house over on Fourth Street.”
“Oh,” Corie said, liking her lips, feeling the light-hearted connection between them starting to strain.
Jack, sensing her confusion and discomfort, said, “My wife was killed in a car accident one hundred and forty-four days ago. When the school year ended I decided to sell the house and move down here.”
Corie’s heart broke for him, knowing herself what such a loss felt like. During her last tour as an Army medic in Afghanistan the Infantry sergeant she’d been engaged to had been killed-in-action. Kevin Murrow’s death was the reason Corie had left the Army at the end of her third three-year enlistment and come home to Thatch's Island.
“I’m so sorry…” at that moment Corie realized she didn’t even know his name. “I’m very sorry about your wife.”
“Thank you,” Jack said. He’d learned that was the best and easiest answer to give when someone who hadn’t really known Cheryl said something about being sorry.
Corie turned and carried his plate out to the dishwasher station without saying another word. Tiyana saw the distressed look on her face.
“What in the world, girl? What’s wrong?”
Taking a ragged breath, Corie got her emotions under control and told her friend, “I asked him if he was here alone this weekend and found out his wife just died not four months ago.”
“Hey,” Tiyana said. “You couldn’t have known. Don’t beat yourself up about it?”
“The wedding ring on the right hand was kind of a clue, don’t ya think?” Corie responded, shaking her head.