He arrived in Charleston on a Thursday in early May. As soon as the town had come into view, he felt a stab of homesickness for Boston.
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The port town was bustling with men in business suits, dockhands, and sightseers. Gabriel lifted his suitcase off the carriage he hired from the train. The suitcase was crammed with everything he could fit in; clothes, all the cash that was available to him, and the leather-bound book of Shakespeare.
The carriage pulled away as he stepped to the sidewalk, pondering what to do now that he was here. Find a place to live and a job. He added finding food as he realized how hungry he was.
A rather short man in his twenties dressed in black slacks and a crisp white shirt was walking towards the spot where Gabriel stood. His red hair shone in the sun and he walked while reading a newspaper.
“Excuse me, sir,” Gabriel said politely. The man stopped and looked up from his paper. “Do you know a good restaurant around here?”
The man smiled, noticing Gabriel’s thick accent. “Say, do you happen to be from Boston, sir?”
“Yes.” Gabriel smiled, unsure of where this was going.
“I was thinking of vacationing there. How about joining me for lunch and telling me about it?”
Gabriel’s smile broadened. He was being handed an opportunity to talk with a seemingly well-off man, and he had only been in Charleston five minutes. “Sir, I’d love to, thank you.”
The man smiled, a big toothy grin. “Names Nathan P. McGreggor, although everyone calls me Nate,” he said, offering his hand.
“Gabriel Wallace, sir, pleased to meet you.”
“And I you. Now, I believe I promised you lunch.”
Gabriel followed him down the block to a French restaurant. He smiled to himself, realizing already that Southerners had better manners than the power-hungry men of Boston.
* * *
They sat in the fancy French restaurant sipping wine. Gabriel had immediately taken a liking to this short, red headed man with amazing blue eyes.
As they chatted, Gabriel’s love for Boston became obvious. When Nate could take it no longer, he asked, “Why did you leave Boston when you love it so much?”
Gabriel paused, thinking of how to best answer. He didn’t want to talk about his father; it still hurt too much. Finally he blurted out, “I couldn’t stay.”
Nate’s eyebrows went up. “Oh? Why?”
Nate didn’t press, and Gabriel felt a flood of relief. They ate in silence for a few moments, until Nate said, “Say, are you interested in law? I could use some help at my office. You’ll work for me, secretary stuff mostly, and in return I’ll give you room and board. And a chance to read law, so you can become a lawyer.” He looked at Gabriel intently with those blue eyes, waiting for a response.
“Nate, I’d love that,” he said, breaking into a huge smile. He wasn’t really interested in law, but he couldn’t believe his luck. A chance meeting on the street had landed him not only a job, but a place to live.
Nate grinned back in his big toothy grin. He didn’t know why, but he felt sorry for Gabriel. Something terrible must have happened to make him leave Boston. He felt an attachment to the young man, like he had to take him under his wing and help him.
After they finished eating, Nate took them to his law office. The one spacious room had books piled everywhere, a desk in the middle, and three huge cabinets.
“I’m planning on moving to a bigger place in a month or so,” he said. It was obvious he took pride in what he did.
Nate then took him across the street. “This is your apartment,” he said, taking out a key and unlocking a door.
The door swung open to reveal a medium-sized living area complete with sofa, chair, and table. A small kitchen was off to the left, a bedroom to the right. The back wall held a fairly large fireplace.
“I know it isn’t much, Gabriel, but-“
“Don’t worry, its perfect, thanks.” He stepped in and put his suitcase on the floor.
“Okay, well, here’s your key. I’ll let you get settled in. If I don’t see you before, be in at work at eight-thirty on Monday.” He flashed a smile. “But I have a feeling I’ll see you before.”
They shook hands, and Nate turned to leave. Gabriel stood in the middle of the room, still not believing his good fortune.
He went to the bedroom and flung himself on the bed, suddenly very tired. Not bothering to undress, he curled up and fell asleep. It was the first good sleep he had had since his father died.
* * *
When he woke the next morning the sun already burned bright in the sky. He lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, and for the first time thought about what he had really left behind in Boston. Pushing those things out of his mind, he stood up and stretched. No difference what he had left, Charleston was his new home.
He was unpacking his sole suitcase when there was a knock on the door. He opened it to find Nate standing there, grinning. His grin reminded Gabriel eerily of Charlie.
“Afternoon, Gabriel. I came by to see how you were settling in.”
“Quite nicely, thank you.”
He motioned for Nate to have a seat on the sofa, but he politely declined, saying, “I was actually wondering if you’d like to join me for lunch.”
They walked down to a small café on Broad Street. “I know it doesn’t look like much, but they’ve got the best food around.”
Gabriel choked on smoke as soon as he was in the door, but Nate didn’t seem to mind as he led the way to a table in the corner. As they sat down, Nate began chatting in his easy going way. “A new client came in this morning, claiming someone mugged her. Damn shame, when even women aren’t safe anymore.” He took a sip of coffee the waitress brought.
Gabriel wrapped his hands around his steaming mug and nodded in agreement. “Men can kill each other all they want, but leave the women alone.”
Nate laughed. “I agree, my friend, I agree.” He took another sip of coffee. “My father once said that if women ruled the world, there would be no crime and a lot more common sense.”
“Ha. You father thinks differently than most men.” Thoughts of his own father crept into his head, but Nate’s smile and quick laugh shoved them out.
“That he does. His friends say he used to believe women belonged barefoot, in the kitchen, pregnant.”
“What changed his mind?”
“My mother. He fell in love with her, and she changed his entire way of thinking. A woman can do that, you know.”
The waitress brought their meals out. “No, I wouldn’t know,” Gabriel said, cutting off a piece of chicken.
“Are you trying to tell me that you didn’t have a sweetheart back in Boston?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Well, I shouldn’t say much. I don’t have one myself. Hello, Earl.”
A big, burly man in a fine gray suit walked over to the table. “Hey, Nate, how’s life treating you lately?” His voice was loud and booming, his accent not of South Carolina, but of Georgia.
“It’s treating me good, Earl, real good. I got a new client this morning.” He wiped his mouth with a white napkin. “Oh, Earl, this is Gabriel Wallace. He’ll be working with me come Monday. Gabriel, this is Earl Hardin.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Hardin.”
Hardin's eyebrows went up when he heard Gabriel’s accent. “Say, Nate, where’d you pick this one up?”
“The street,” Nate said, half jokingly. He missed the malice in Hardin’s dark brown eyes. “He’s from Boston.”
“No shit.” He pulled a plug of tobacco from a pocket and ripped a piece off. He placed his hands on the table and leaned in so close Gabriel caught the foul odor of the freshly chewed tobacco. “Now, listen, I don’t like Yanks, and I suggest you don’t go flaunting that accent around town. Most feel the way I do. And don’t cross me, boy.” With a tip of his hat to Nate, he was gone.
Nate smoothed his hair in quick, nervous motions. “Let me apologize for him. But I’m afraid he’s right. People here aren’t exactly fond of Northerners. But I believe you must judge the person, not their birthplace.”
Gabriel finished his meal, barely saying a word. Hardin’s threat had left him shaken. Because of Nate’s affability and kindness, he had forgotten the rising tensions between North and South.