Here's a LONG short story I wrote a while ago and have been revising off and on.It's still pretty rough. Let me know what ya'll think.
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The Gardenia Inn
Miles rubbed out the ring of water he’d made on the Gardenia Lounge’s black marble bar-top. He pulled a coaster from the wooden stand near the cashews and set down his tumbler of ginger ale. David the bartender was busy polishing glasses behind the counter and arranging them in a pyramid in front of the giant walnut trimmed mirror. Miles slowly ate his Prosciutto/Parmesan quiche and cup of leftover onion bisque while behind him two groups of the rich old ladies sat in suede loungers and chatted over tea and scones. They savored mid-afternoon sunlight softened by the massive live oaks outside—their husbands out on the town at this investment office, or that country club bar. They were short-termers, light spenders and wholly unimportant, but they kept the atmosphere. Miles liked them. He turned his head and smiled at one and she smiled back,
Miles turned around on his bar stool,
“Good afternoon Mrs. Wheatley. Can I get you anything?”
“Oh no dear, I’m absolutely fine. You finish your lunch. . . . What a lovely day this is.”
“It is, isn’t it,” Miles answered, gazing wistfully outside as the day began to grow yellow.
“Tell me Miles,” Mrs. Wheatly called again from her group across the room, “What’s that gorgeous gray plant in the trees around here?”
“It’s called Spanish Moss. You’ll see it from here to Virgina. It loves the live oaks.” Miles’s turned his back to the bar and faced Mrs. Wheatly. He held his sweating ginger ale in his hand.
“It’s lovely Miles, just lovely. I swear this is the most beautiful place I’ve seen since Cape Cod. And the weather is just wonderful.”
“Yeah it is. I love it here.”
“You’re so fortunate Miles.”
“Don’t I know it.”
Mrs. Wheatly stared at Miles for a moment in silence. Her eyes were dark green and astoundingly devoid of wrinkles. She sighed.
“Well, finish your lunch Miles. I hope to see you at dinner this evening.”
“You can count on it.”
Miles turned around and took another bite of his Quiche.
“This turned out really good David. Tell Jeff I said so when you see him. Tell him he needs to put it on the menu more often.”
“I will.” David said, setting his last glass on top of the pyramid. He walked up to Miles and put both hands on the bar.
“Janie called you.”
“Your bisque turned out well too.”
Miles tossed his spoon into the empty cup and pushed it toward David.
“David I’d like a drink.”
“You should call her back. Your mom’s been calling too—nearly a week now.”
David turned around to grab a glass.
“No David,” said Miles, “I’d like you to go in the back and make me a drink.”
“Miles, I’m tired of. . .”
“Do I need to remind you. . .”
“You can’t keep holding that over my head Miles. It’s good for about four of five more of these,” David held up the empty tumbler, “but this has to stop sometime.”
Miles bunched up his linen napkin and dropped it onto his plate on top of his fork. He pushed the plate toward David and grabbed another coaster.
“I’m going to hold last month over your head until you die. Don’t be a bitch David.”
“Fuck you Miles.” David took the glass and headed toward the kitchen. Miles called out,
“I’ll have a Stoli. . . and some tonic.”
Miles looked at his watch and saw that he had 30 minutes. He took out his cell phone and dialed Janie.
“Please… voicemail, voicemail, voicemail…”
“Hello?”, Janie answered on the second ring.
“It’s me. What do you want?”
Miles nodded to David as David set the drink down on the coaster in front of him. David saw Miles’ phone and mouthed Janie’s name. Miles nodded again.
“We need to talk Miles,” Janie said, “I never see you anymore.”
“I have to go in a minute.”
Miles took a long sip of his drink. David had spiked it viciously.
“Okay Miles, whatever.”
“Janie, meet me here at 5:30. I’ll talk to you then.”
“Thank you. I just…”
“I’ve got to go. See you at 5:30”
Miles hung up the phone.
“You’re gonna break up with her?” asked David.
“I need to call my mom. Give me a minute… Actually, I’m going up front. I need to get back to work. I’ll bring you the glass back when I’m done.”
Miles started to get up and went for his drink but David grabbed it and pulled it away.
“Shawn called too. He wants to know if you’re coming out tonight.” David said.
“I told Rebecca I’d work the night shift.”
“And you’re eating dinner here too…”
David let go of the drink and Miles took it with him toward the foyer.
Miles glided the mouse over the Persian styled mat that lay on his desk in front of a small pot of pink orchids. He checked the Dahmers into room 6, chuckled, and typed in Mrs. Morrisey’s order for more towels. He picked up the phone and dialed the portable phone extension for Agnes.
“The Morisseys would like more towels in room 7.”
“Okay Miles, did they say how many?”
“There’s three of them. Give them three sets and a couple of the big ones for the patio.”
Miles stared at the brochures in the wooden stand on his desk. The idyllic plantation home where he resided felt remarkably distant. It sat small in the black and white photograph, its double-tiered porch hiding in the darkness behind white columns that bowed from under its shallow roof to an army of solitary trees.
Southern Hospitality… Located Downtown… Daily Tea Service… Convenient to Hilton Head…
Rooms starting at $275
Miles reached up and tapped the partially open doorway in the photograph…
‘That’s where I am.’ he thought.
‘That’s where I am, where I belong.’
The phone rang.
“Hello, Front Desk. This is Miles.”
“Miles, its Richard Fairbanks.”
“Hello Mr. Fairbanks. How is everything today?”
“It’s fine,” Richard Fairbanks was incurably gruff. Miles thought he must be suffocating, “I’m due at Augusta in an hour. I’m just leaving now, so I’ll be late. I need you to call Dean Michaels over there and let him know that I’m on my way.”
“Of course Mr. Fairbanks.”
“Is there anything else I can do for you?”
“Well don’t you want to know where he is?”
“Oh, I apologize. How do I reach him?”
“Call the pro-shop and ask for Roger. He’ll find Dean for you. Do it now please.”
“Certainly Mr. Fairbanks. Anything else?”
“Jessica and Lora are going to a function in Habersham. Give them directions.”
“They’ll be back at six for dinner. Keep them company if you would. I should be back from Augusta at 11:00.”
“I suppose I can do that for you.”
“Good. I’ll buy you a cocktail when I get back.”
“I’m working tonight as well.”
“Then I’ll buy you a cocktail and leave it at the bar. I’ll see you shortly Miles. I’m coming down to walk the ladies out.”
“Alright Mr. Fairbanks. I’ll get on the phone with Augusta right away.”
Mr. Fairbanks hung up the phone. Miles looked up and saw a flash of blue rushing into the sitting room. He called out,
“Your father said you were getting ready.”
Miles heard Lora mixing a cocktail at the dry bar.
“Come in here Miles. I have a problem.”
“Oh yeah? What is it?”
“Just come here please.”
Miles slipped on his Dockers. He rose from the studded leather chair and walked into the sitting room where the yellowing sun streamed in the lace curtained windows and made everything shine with decadence. Lora dropped her tongs back into the ice bucket and took a sip of her Long Island Iced Tea. She looked over the glass at Miles with enormous dark brown eyes.
Lora smiled. She wore an elegant blue gown that fell in puddles on the floor and left her shoulders completely exposed. Miles found himself feeling warmth rise from his belly.
“That dress must’ve cost a few thousand dollars.”
“Yes, about as much as that Jacket.”
She took another sip of her drink and it was halfway gone.
“I sold my soul for this jacket.”
“No, you sold your soul to me. That jacket was about $250.”
Miles stepped over toward the bar and stayed his hand at a bottle of Johnnie Walker.
“I marvel at how you people always know how much everything costs.”
“Ha,” Lora walked over and stood next to Miles at the bar, “and what is it that you learned in school.”
“So what’s your problem?”
“I need help zipping up my dress.”
Lora twisted her back and Miles followed her spine all the way down the delicate v of her gown. She smelled like flowers, the way expensive perfume can smell exactly like flowers.
“So that’s why you came down here.” Miles said.
“No, I came down here because my dad was leering at me.”
“ Yes, leering, like he always does.”
“I’m supposed to call Augusta for your father right away. You’re distracting me.”
“To let them know he’s late?”
“Yes, and I honestly don’t think anyone there would say anything to him about it. It’s kind of admirable how he still pretends like they would.”
“Its just propriety Miles.”
Lora finished her drink.
“Wonderful.” Miles said under his breath.
He let go of the Scotch and started back toward the foyer.
“Meet me in the laundry. I’ve got ten minutes.”
On the way out he grabbed his cocktail from his desk.
Miles zipped up his pants and watched Lora pull her dress over her blushing body. She straightened out her long dark hair and used her finger to wipe the lipstick from around her mouth. Miles finished his drink.
“Did you notice even the laundry room is festooned with mahogany?”
Lora pressed her lips together to re-distribute her lipstick. She pointed to Miles’ mouth.
“You might want to get yours too.”
“Oh… you know that was a lot of fun.”
“It was. I’ve got to go back upstairs now, or my mother will start missing me. You should really call Augusta.”
Lora turned around and put her hands to the wall while Miles pulled up her zipper. She stepped back in to her white sequined shoes and peeked out the door before heading back upstairs. Miles sat on the washer and waited for his cheeks to turn pale again. He returned to his desk and clocked back in with the computer. Then he noticed he was rolling his glass around in his hands. He got up and walked to the bar. David’s eyes followed him inside. Miles set the glass on marble where David was cleaning the taps and then turned to leave.
“You fucked Lora Fairbanks again didn’t you?”
David said it just quietly enough not to be heard across the room where Mrs. Wheatly smiled wanly at the trees outside. Miles turned around and glared at him,
“You can’t keep a damn secret around here can you.”
“Fifty-five hundred square feet Miles. Not much space for it,” David bent down to towel off the kegs of Amstel, Sam Adams, and Corona Extra, “How old is she?”
“She doesn’t look twenty…”
“… and her mom doesn’t look thirty.”
“Then maybe she lied,”
Miles turned back around.
“I’m going back to the lobby David.”
“It’s not a lobby.”
Miles kicked off his shoes and waited for the Fairbanks’s to glide down the stairs. He knew the air would get lighter when they came. He signed on to the Internet, found the number for the Augusta National Golf Club Pro Shop and dialed it. He pushed zero several times to skip the automated message. The line went busy for a moment and then someone answered,
“Hello, Pro-Shop. This is Randy.”
“Hello Randy. My name is Miles and I work at the Gardenia Inn in Beaufort, South Carolina. I’m calling on behalf of a Mr. Richard Fairbanks about an appointment he has at Augusta in a couple of hours. He asked that I speak to Roger.”
“Hello Mr. Daniels. This is Miles from the Gardenia Inn in Beaufort, South Carolina. I’m calling on behalf of Richard Fairbanks. He asked me to speak with you.”
“He wanted me to tell you that he’ll be late to his appointment this evening.”
“Did he say how late?”
“Alright. I’ll pass it on.”
“Oh wait, could you pass it on to a Dean Mich—”
Roger hung up the phone. Miles sighed and slouched in his chair. He shot up a second later when he heard the front door handle turning. Three middle-aged women awash in gold rope came in and Brenda Thatcher, the only single one of the group, turned away from her friends for a moment to speak with Miles. Her friends stared at him blankly from the doorway. Behind them, Miles could see a horse-drawn carriage driving down the street.
“Oh Miles. Thank you so much for your recommendation. I loved that restaurant. Gorgeous. What was it… Plum, Plum, The Plum.”
“Anyway, gorgeous view. What I would give to have that in my backyard.”
“I aim to please.”
“Oh and you did. As long as you’re here I’m coming back every time I can.”
Miles started to blush. He couldn’t understand it but he did.
“Thank you Ms. Thatcher. Ask me anytime and I’ll tell you all of this town’s secrets.”
She laughed and waved her jingling wrist,
“Secrets, ha, secrets. Miles I could kiss you.”
“We’d have to be discreet."
She laughed again. Miles had had his hands clasped tightly in front of him. He released them and waved the ladies toward the lounge.
“Tea’s being served in less than five minutes ladies. I’m sure you don’t want to miss it.”
Ms. Thatcher shook her head.
“Oh, no we don’t. Of course not. Thank you.”
The ladies rustled by to the lounge leaving a trail of Merlot and Fruit in the air behind them. One of them toted a Talbots bag. Liebowitz, Miles reminded himself. Marjorie Ann Liebowitz. 19 guests. 19 names. Remember them all, especially the women.
Miles sat back down and spun his chair around to face the large open stairwell. He heard Lora’s muffled voice, the quiet one she used with her family. He heard Jessica Lynnette Fairbanks’s piercing nervous laughter and then heard their shoes pounding the hardwood floor. Miles watched Mr. Fairbanks round the corner first and stand at the stop of the stairs instinctively checking his watch. He wore a suit cut to make him look like a tower. Mr. Fairbanks started down the stairs and Jessica and Lora soon followed, Lora in her flowing blue and Mrs. Fairbanks in a red gown that practically matched except for a barely visible vine of tiny sequins that rose from the floor to her chest. She made an effort to look directly over Mr. Fairbanks’ head at Miles and smile the smile she shared with her daughter.
“Jesus Christ, don’t you women look absolutely gorgeous?” Miles called up to them.
Lora smiled bigger and Jessica let out a cackle. Mr. Fairbanks walked up past the desk and stood at the doorway. He turned.
“Did you call Augusta?” he asked.
The women stopped in the hall.
“Who’d you talk with?”
“Not Dean Michaels?”
“Roger said he’d deliver the message.”
“Shit…” Mr. Fairbanks turned the handle of the front door but let it go and put his hand in his pocket, “I’m taking a Cessna from Frogmore Airport. Call Roger back and make sure you talk to Dean, alright.”
“I mean, of course I can. Sorry.”
Mr. Fairbanks glared at Miles for no more than half a second with gray-blue eyes, then his face cracked into a grin,
“Lora looks great doesn’t she?” he said.
“Yes, they both look fantastic.”
“Yeah…” Mr. Fairbanks stared back at his wife and daughter. He bit his lower lip and Miles watched his eyes flit up and down, “Well. I’m off. Take care of them, would you?”
Mr. Fairbanks walked out and pulled the door halfway shut behind him. Miles reached for it to close it rest of the way.
“You should leave it open,” Lora spoke in her normal voice, “It’s so nice outside…”
Miles pulled the door open and let the light stream into the foyer. He took in a deep and silent breath of the early spring breeze and then turned back to notice that both the women were staring at him. The warmth again welled up in his chest.
“Well, are ya’ll driving or is someone driving you?”
“Lora’s going to drive us in Richard’s car.” Mrs. Fairbanks answered.
“Here, come into the lobby.”
Miles motioned to the two chairs by the door. The women walked to the chairs. Lora brushed up against Miles and he grabbed briefly at her hand. She turned her head and gave him a look.
Mrs. Fairbanks sat down and crossed her long tanned legs. She had painted her toe-nails red to match her dress.
“You’re going to take 170…” Miles started.
The women were drinking Champagne at the Habersham Home Show. Lora had come back in for a sash and arranged to meet Miles in the laundry at dinner. Miles sat in his desk and obsessed about her. He obsessed about her soft black hair and soft tanned skin, and then found himself obsessing about her mother. They looked nearly identical, and Jessica Fairbanks had to have gone under the knife because she didn’t look more than twenty-five years old. It was astonishing. Miles thought about Lora’s hair thin silver necklace with pearls extending from it like tears down her chest. He thought about Mrs. Fairbanks’s hair that shined like polished ebony and the supple skin around her lips, and the redness of both of their cheeks. And he thought about how money could enhance people, how glorious it could make people look. The gowns made Miles imagine that both the Fairbanks women shined even naked, that the opulence had soaked into their bones and rendered them superhuman and ageless.
Miles watched the clock on the computer tick down toward 5:30 and tried to summon closeness for Janie, but fell short. He waited until 5:15 to pick up the phone and dial Augusta again. When he finished, it was 5:29. Dean Michaels laughed at Richard Fairbanks’s illusions of accountability and Miles saw him screaming through the clouds in his Cessna and wondered if he flew himself. Then through the open door he saw Janie’s Probe slowing down in the concourse at 5:30 in the dot. He waited for a minute, pulled his cigarettes out of the desk, and lit one on the way out.
Miles rested against forked front stairs amidst the manicured wisteria that framed the Gardenia Inn’s lower portion. Janie circled back around the brick concourse and idled her car in front of him. The sun beat down fiercely and when Janie rolled down her window, her forehead was covered in beads of fresh sweat. She looked pale, strung out, and poor.
“Can we talk in the car please?”
Miles threw his cigarette on the walkway and stomped it out.
“I don’t have much time. Dinner’s at six.”
He walked around the car, opened the passenger’s side door and got in. Janie started to pull out of the concourse.
“No,” Miles pointed to a parking space in the shade, “I don’t want to leave. Just park there.”
Janie sighed and jerked the car over to the space. They sat in silence for a minute. Janie reached for the radio.
“So what is it you needed to talk to me about?” Miles asked.
“Hold on.” Janie played with the radio’s knob.
“I don’t have much time.”
“Just hold on.”
She pushed the play button and turned the volume down low. Miles recognized the guitar riff instantly. He sighed, glanced at Janie who stared back at him unmoving, and then lay back in his seat. The lyrics started:
Miles waited saw Janie biting her lip. He wondered how many verses she would sit through.
“You remember when you played this for me?” Janie asked.
“This is a little dramatic, don’t you think?” Miles answered.
“I’ve gotta make a point Miles.”
“And what is that?” Miles sat up and looked at her.
“I was thinking about when you played this for me, and all the things you said. I was thinking about it today. Like, it hit me while I was eating breakfast, that I had forgotten all about it.”
“And I’d forgotten about the beach. And I’d forgotten about Panini’s and about John and about Shawn and Jake and Lilian and Ashley..
“I’d forgotten about how much you and I used to like one another.
“And now everything is just this fucking fog. I had forgotten about everything and I realized that it’s all become this big hazy nothing. And I… I don’t even see you anymore. You’re always here. You live here. It’s all this fucking fog and I’m by myself...
"Do you realize it's been a week since we've seen one another?
"I've got no idea what you do all day, all night?"
"I'm busy. I work."
"And you don't have time to call, to hit me up online like you used to? To eat lunch?"
"There's a goddamn resturaunt right down the street!"
Miles’s eyes drifted to a bluebird perched outside the window past his girlfriend’s head. He watched it clean its wings.
“What do you want to say Janie?” he finally said.
“You’re breaking up with me?”
“You’re not the same person who sang me this song.”
“It’s just a fucking song.”
Janie looked down at the steering wheel. Miles’s bird flew away.
“It’s why I loved you Miles…
“It’s why I loved you, and I… I don’t anymore.”
“Since you got that fucking money. Since you got that money and started working at this fucking place—“
“Well, this is getting ridiculous,” Miles had been fidgeting with his lighter. He shoved it in his pocket and put his hand on the door handle, “I haven’t spent a fucking cent of that money and I knew too Janie. I knew that it would change things. I thought you could fucking stick it out.”
“Why are you cursing at me?”
“I’ve got to go now,” Miles opened the door and stepped outside. Janie reached for him. He felt her hand brush his jacket, “Call me some other time.”
He started back toward the Inn. Janie screamed after him.
“I’m not going to Miles!
Miles picked up his cigarette butt off the ground. He felt invisible hands pulling him around, trying to make him look back. He made it inside the Inn and shut the door. He stood at the entrance to the sitting room and watched the Probe out the window. It sat for five minutes, and then was gone.
Ms. Hansen’s voice came from the lounge doorway,
“You forgot to clock out.”
Miles turned around to see her leaning against the wall holding a glass of Pinot noir.
“I’m sorry. I’ll do it now.”
Miles walked to the computer and pulled up his information. He erased the ‘out’ time and typed in 5:30.
“Can I get an override?”
Ms. Hansen walked to the computer and punched in her code. She stood up and turned to Miles,
“Tracy’s coming in tonight. She needs more hours. You can go home whenever you want.”
“I’m sorry. I’ve still got you on tomorrow night. You look like you need some rest anyway.
“Don’t worry, you’ve made plenty of money this week.”
Ms. Hansen stared at him.
“You’re crying Miles.”
Miles wiped his hand over his cheek. He held out his hand and looked at his gleaming finger.
“I’m sorry…. I didn’t know.”
Ms. Hansen leaned over and signed into the computer and pulled up her reports. She brushed past miles and sat down.
“If you need to talk to me about it, you can.”
“I’m sorry.” Miles said.
He turned and walked to the lounge. Ms. Hansen watched him go.
“Give me a Captain and Coke.”
“You’re back on in an hour, aren’t you?” David asked, perpetually polishing glasses.
“Ms. Hansen took me off the schedule.” Miles took off his jacket and dropped it over the back of his barstool.
“Ah. Well then you can—“
“I’m not committing to anything. Just make me a drink please.”
David grabbed a small tumbler and filled it with ice. Miles turned around on his stool and watched the maids and dinner waiters pull the wicker lounge furniture out to the back porch and swap it with tables and chairs from the shed outside. They could accomplish it all in five minutes. He watched Agnes feverishly emptying ash-trays on the screened porch while a black man dressed all in white shuffled the Inn’s rockers and Adirondacks around to accommodate the lounge furniture. Agnes went on to light the porch lanterns. Miles saw her wince as she stretched to reach them.
“David, hold on to my drink for me. I’m going out to help Agnes.”
“Fuck, I’ll drink it.”
Miles grabbed a broom and dustpan from the pile of equipment the staff had laid on the porch and stood next to the black man sweeping.
“What’s your name?” Miles asked.
“I’m Miles. I own this place.”
He sat at a table for six where he had invited Mrs. Wheatley, Ms. Thatcher, and Mrs. Liebowitz to sit with him and Lora and Jessica Fairbanks. He wracked his brain, and after three glasses of wine, he found in himself a story from his childhood about a Voodoo witch doctor who haunted St. Helena Island. He followed the path on through the thick St. Helena woods and their dark legends, and on through the battles of the Civil War that had taken place in that same spot, and he was surrounded by the ghosts of Beaufort that stared out at the water and dreamed of swimming in the moonlight.
After the main course of Lowcountry Gumbo, Miles excused himself, saying he had work to do and went out the side door by the laundry room where he stood on the stoop and lit a cigarette. In two minutes Lora tapped on the door.
“I told them I was going upstairs.”
“I just told them I was going upstairs. Mom doesn’t ask.”
They walked into the laundry room and locked the door. Miles picked Lora up and sat her on the dryer. They finished in 10 minutes.
Miles and Lora sat on the folding bench in their underwear. Cool air blew down on them from a vent directly above their heads.
“I wonder something.” Lora said.
“What is it?”
“Why is it called the Gardenia Inn if there are no Gardenias?”
“Ooohh…” Miles said, “That’s a great story.”
“Yeah, a bit spooky, wanna hear it?”
“Alright,” Miles took a breath and began,
“So like, back in the day they built most of the houses on the back side of this land, back from the water-front. The water-front was a port, the bridge wasn’t there, and all the buildings there were right up on the water. There were like bars, and inns and all that for sailors who came through. They had pirate ships come through.”
“Yeah, so anyway, originally there was a big brick house on this lot owned by a cotton merchant named James Hamilton. Mr. Hamilton’s wife died giving birth to their only daughter Lily, and when he died, she got the house.”
“So, she spent about a year by herself and the and then finally she married this guy Robert Hanson, a textile dealer from up north. But Mr. Hanson was gone all the time, so Lily filled her time by planting Gardenia bushes all over her yard and obsessively taking care of them. They only time people wouldn’t see her out there during the day is when Mr. Hanson was home.”
“ So what happened to the bushes?”
“Getting to it. Okay, so one day Mr. Hanson left, and he was supposed to be gone for about six months, but a year later, he still hadn’t gotten back. And everyone in town thought he was dead, and they tried to get Lily to move out of her house, and in with her extended family, but she didn’t want to leave, and so she just kept tending to her bushes and spending the money she and Robert had put away. This went on for another year, two years, three years, and finally Lily couldn’t afford to eat or clothe herself, so she had to open up the house to boarders.”
“Yeah, so Mr. Hanson had been gone for like five years, and she was taking in guests, and then she took in this guy, no-one knew his name. He was big, and dark, and wore dirty clothes, but had tons of money. He was a pirate.”
“One night, when there were no other boarders in the house, the pirate snuck upstairs to Lily’s room, picked her lock, and raped and killed her.”
“She didn’t have a will, and the town took the house and turned it into an Inn. Mr. Hanson still hadn’t come back.”
“What happened to him? What happened to the bushes?”
“The town kept them up. But about a year after Lily died, people started seeing a ghost wandering around in the yard at night, touching the plants… checking on them.”
“Ha, a ghost…”
“Okay, don’t believe that part, but it gets better. Finally, ten years after Mr. Hanson left, he got dropped off on a cargo ship, missing a hand, and with no recollection of what had happened to him. He only knew that he wanted to see Lily.”
“So he learned that she had died. And he was heart-broken. He fought the town for a little while and they gave him back the house he and Lily had, but everything was different, except for the Gardenias in the garden. So, he spent most of his time there, and people walking by could see him there. Here barely ate, barely bathed, let his hair and beard grow long and his clothes get shabby, and just sat in the garden all day long, and somehow, the flowers stayed alive... and healthy and manicured.”
“No one ever saw him do anything but look at them. Someone kept them up.”
“Okay, you don’t believe in ghosts… that’s fine.”
“So where’s this house and these flowers now?”, Lora asked.
“The house is underneath us,” Marion patted the bench, “See, after about a year of being by himself, Mr. Hanson went in the house one night, doused himself in kerosene, and lit a match.”
“They couldn’t put out the fire. They didn’t have a fire department, so the house burned, and burned and burned, and the bricks crumbled, and everything but the foundation turned to ash. And the next day, when the sun came up, the people gathered around saw that every one of the Gardenias bushes in the garden had shriveled up and died.”
Lora got a chill, “Wow… Is that true?”
Miles looked her in the eyes,
Lora started laughing, loudly. She punched Miles in the arm.
Miles laughed with her, then looked at his watch.
“We should get back for dessert and coffee.”
“I don’t really want to…”, Lora said.
“We need to.”
Miles reached for his pants. Lora stopped him, grabbing his arm.
“Why don’t excuse ourselves and then I’ll say I’m going to bed early, and you can meet me outside and we can go for a walk?”
“I…” Miles hesitated, “They expect me to be there, we can do it tomorrow.”
Lora sighed and let go.
Miles went back to lie about where he had been and Lora got back to the table shortly afterward, blushing. Miles caught her mother glancing back and forth at the two of them. He broke the tension by asking if the women would like to hear another story. He began the story of Lily and Robert Hanson.
Miles made the town as mysterious and wonderful for the women as it had always been for him a place with love and death and beauty filling the air that filled his lungs. He drank his coffee, and he un-tucked his shirt and loosened his belt and sat at the table as one by one the women left him. Lora smiled at the doorway on her way out, and as soon as she turned around, Miles caught her mother staring at him. She left.
He sat for a moment and looked around at the lounge’s empty chairs. The sun was setting outside and it shined orange off the river. Miles saw a couple of the men sitting on the screened porch smoking cigars and drinking Scotch and Brandy. He wondered if they took everything for granted.
“So what happened with Janie?”
It was 10:00pm. The wait-staff had cleaned the tables and taken them back to the shed. In the morning they would return the lounge furniture, but for the night, the lounge, save for the bar, was empty. David was cleaning the glasses he collected from the back porch and stacking them in a spiraled tower in front of the mirror. He’d made Miles a Captain Morgan and Coke in a tall glass. Miles sipped it slowly.
Miles set his drink down and looked toward the back porch. The men sitting there since dinner rose as a group and left by the side steps.
“They’re going to Emily’s,” said David, “Every night they get tanked and go there to try and get a young piece of ass.”
“Is that so?” Miles kept looking out the bay windows.
“You know who I saw with Mr. Liebowitz? Anne Carlyle.” David said.
“Nope. They really clean up over there.”
Miles turned back toward the bar.
“I suppose they should. What good is all that money if they don’t.”
“I think it’s wrong.” David said.
Miles paused for a moment.
“Do those girls think they’re going to run away with them or something?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” David set down his last glass, “I think… that they like to pretend.”
“Ann Carlyle was hot.” Miles smiled.
Their conversation went dead. For a moment, Miles and David just looked at each other. Then Miles heard the clapping of high-heeled shoes down the stairs. Mrs. Fairbanks looked at Miles exasperated, and then quickly made her way to the back porch. Miles watched her plop down in an Adirondack chair.
“I wonder what’s going on?” asked David. He continued,
“Well, I’m about to leave. I don’t suppose you’re going to come out…”
Miles stared at Jessica Fairbanks’ delicate back, watching for it to quake.
“Thought not.” David said. He then reached under the bar and retrieved a fifth of Jack Daniels, which he set on the counter.
“I got a present for you,” David said, “For your discretion.”
“You’re not going to buy me off.” Miles said, reaching for the liquor.
“I’m just showing my appreciation.”
David turned to leave.
“Well I’m out of here,” he said, “and Miles… you need to stop what you’re doing here. You need to see your family.”
Miles was staring outside again.
“I’m fine without your advice.”
“Alright, fine, just trying to be a friend.”
“How old do you suppose she really is?” Miles asked, following Jessica Fairbanks’ breaths.
“Be careful,” said David.
David exited through the kitchen door. A moment later, the overhead lights went off and Miles was left sitting beneath the dim lights of the bar. In silhouette he saw Ms. Fairbanks’s head turn slowly to the window and then he was looking straight at her and she at him. He grabbed his liquor and two glasses and went outside.
“I brought you a present.” Miles held up the liquor and the glasses.
“Sit.” Said Mrs. Fairbanks.
Miles took a seat in the chair next to hers. He put the glasses on the small table between them and filled each halfway. He handed a glass to Mrs. Fairbanks who grabbed it while still looking out at the water.
“Richard is staying in Augusta.” She started.
“He has a woman there.”
“He left his E-mail open the other day,” Mrs. Faibanks took a drink, “She’s 22.”
Miles was quiet for a moment, and then asked,
“How do you know?”
“She has a profile online. She puts a link to it at the end of her messages. Her name is Anne.”
Mrs. Fairbanks sighed,
“He’s a bastard Miles.”
“Do you know what he said?”
She turned to look at Miles.
“He said that you’d take care of me.”
In the candlelight emanating from the gas lanterns of the porch Jessica Fairbanks stared at Miles imploringly for a moment and then turned back to the water. Miles was silent a while more. He finished his drink in one sip, enhancing his inner warmth and rendering him fuzzy.
“Well,” he said, “I will take care of you.”
They sat there. Miles filled up his glass again and then asked Jessica if he could fill hers. He leaned back and found himself staring at her shoes discarded on the floor, and then her red painted toes, and then her gleaming legs. She caught him off guard,
“You enjoy being with Lora?”
“Huh?” Miles nearly choked on his drink.
“I’m sure you do. Lora’s a sweet girl.”
“But you need to stop seeing her Miles.”
“Lora’s not equipped for it.” Mrs. Fairbaks said.
“… why not?”
“There are things beyond your control.”
“I might understand”
“We don’t live here Miles.”
“Lora and I can keep in touch.”
“She’s too naive Miles.”
“I don’t think so.”
“She’s too naïve.”
“And you’re not?”
Miles and Jessica stopped and looked at each other for a long time. The screen door leading to the yard and the trees and the dock and the water shook in the breeze. In his sluggish blood Miles felt that he was thoroughly drunk, but everything he saw remained crisp and clear to him. He looked out at the water and back to Lora.
“Have you ever been swimming?” he asked.
“Of course I have.” Jessica answered.
“In the river?”
“Want to go now?”
“Sure” Jessica said, her tone distant.
Miles and Jessica ran through the yard, to the end of the covered dock, and the breeze was chilly, but there they took their clothes off, Miles stumbling, drunk, to take off his pants. He grabbed Jessica Fairbanks and threw her in, and she laughed heartily and they embraced one another in the water. Finding their footing on the sandy bottom, they made love against the side of the dock. Miles’ back scraped against the barnacles clinging to the dock’s pilings and he clung desperately to Jessica who clung just as desperately back, and they both climaxed, and then stood in the water kissing one another. Then they climbed back up the crude wooden ladder, pulled on their underwear and lay down on in the dock’s hammock together to dry off. Jessica was warm and her skin was as smooth as anyone’s Miles had ever touched.
“I saw you today,” Jessica said, “I saw you with some girl in a car. I was watching you from the patio. Lora was too.”
“That was my girlfriend. She left me.”
“Why? You’re magic.”
Miles looked at his watch. It was nearing Midnight.
“I’m going to tell you a secret.” He said.
“I’m a millionaire.”
“It doesn’t make me a bad person.”
They spent the next couple of hours in silence. Miles told Jessica he was going to stay on the dock for a while and she put her dress back on and went inside to bed. Miles stayed for an hour thinking about Jessica and Lora Fairbanks and went over and over in his mind what he could to do to conquer their sadness.
He walked back to the inn at 2:00am and there David waited for him on the porch, smoking a cigarette and drinking what was left of Jessica’s whiskey.
“You need to know something.” He said.
“What is it David?” Miles stood in front of him.
“Something about the Fairbanks family, something I found out a few days ago,” David chuckled, “Something I haven’t had the heard to tell you.”
“Richard Fairbanks is 55 years old.”
“Yeah, and he’s seeing a 22 year old in Augusta, so what?”
David set the glass down on the arm of the chair where he sat.
“So, Richard Fairbanks is 55 years old, and Jessica Fairbanks… she’s 30.”
“So… … …”
Miles’ head started spinning.
“Lora…who you’ve been fucking in the laundry room for the past three weeks. She’s 15.”
“You can choose whether or not to believe me,” David got up from his chair and walked to the side door of the porch, “You know who my friends are.”
David left before Miles could respond. Suddenly, the porch whirled around him and the gas lanterns where possessed by malignant spirits. Miles fell into a chair sputtering,
"She did seem a bit...
"She dd seem a bit..."
He began to vomit.
Miles awoke and adjusted raised his car seat to its upright position. He reached into the passengers seat, retrieved one of four gallon jugs that sat there and took a swig to wash out his mouth. He opened his door and spat the water out on the ground, then grabbed his toiletry bag and a shirt and slacks from the neatly folded assortment that lay in the back seat. He walked around to his trunk and from there took out a paper bag labeled ‘breakfast’ and another one labeled ‘lunch’ as well as a pack of Marlboro Mediums from one of four cartons. He then grabbed a container of Kiwi quick shine and closed the trunk.
It was 6:30am. Miles made sure Ms. Hansen’s parking space was empty and then noticed that Richard Fairbanks’s Cadillac Escalade was missing as well. He supposed Mr. Fairbanks returned in the night. Miles walked around the hotel to its service entrance on the side and from the pocket of his day old pants produced the key to the door. He quietly made his way to the back stairs and walked to the second floor. There he produced another key to room 3, opened the door and walked in. He locked the door behind him.
At 8:00am Miles said good morning to Ms. Hansen who was having coffee on the front porch, went to his desk, and clocked in. He pulled up the arrival list for the day—nothing. He pulled up the list of special requests. The Morrisey’s were taking their afternoon tea in their room. Mrs. Liebowitz wanted to have dinner late. He pulled up the maid assignment. It was for Agnes and Linda. Then Miles checked the room list. The master suite, the Fairbanks suite, was empty. The family had checked out at 5:00am. Miles pulled up their record and found it missing. Ms. Hansen’s initials appeared at the corner of the screen, authorizing the erasure. Miles started falling. He fell and fell and there was no stopping him from falling. In his chair he imagined he sank through the leather, through the cotton, and through the floor, deep into the salty, muddy soil of Beaufort where he dissipated and was integrated—absorbed forever.