A Dark and Stormy Night
The wind howled and shrieked and the waves slapped angrily against the seawall, huge, looming masses of clouds all but blotting out the pale yellow crescent moon. Rain was blowing in now too, razor-sharp shards slashing at her bare legs.
“It was a dark and stormy night.” She picked her way down the concrete abutment. Funny but not so funny. She’d told the girls in her advanced placement English class that it was a cliché. Yet here she was, a living, breathing cliché, in more ways than one.
The last time. That’s what she’d told herself nearly an hour ago as she slipped out of the house without a backward glance.
In the confessional that week—the first time she’d gone to confession in years and years—she’d promised Father she would put an end to this madness.
“It’s adultery. You know that,” he’d said, sharply. “And you know this has to stop.”
Her face still burned with the shame of his words. She’d wept and promised to end the affair. To be the kind of woman everyone believed her to be; her family, her friends, and yes, all those impressionable girls who looked up to her, adored her as “the cool teacher.”
She’d been so careful. Never a hint to anyone. No one could know. She’d stressed that to him a hundred times. There was so much at stake. They had taken every precaution. And yet …
Her wet hair whipped around her face. She’d look like a drowned rat by the time she got there. But she knew he wouldn’t care. Within a minute of her arrival, he’d be tearing at her clothes with a ferocity that both amused and terrified her.
But tonight would be different, she promised herself. Tonight was goodbye.
Up ahead, two hundred feet away, she spotted the flickering light in the dockhouse, the only light on the storm-blackened horizon. All the beach houses along here were vacant this time of year, silently waiting for their absentee owners to return again in the spring. Distracted, she stumbled on a deep crack in the concrete and nearly pitched sideways into the waves, but somehow managed to right herself. Her breath was coming in hoarse gasps, her heart pounding in her chest as she stopped to regain her bearings.
And what if she had fallen? What then? Cruel irony, right? After the deal she’d cut with God? Make things right at home, quit dropping so many f-bombs, be nicer to her coworkers, cut her mom some slack, go back to church? To die on the way to a breakup with her lover, definitely smashed on the rocks, probably drowned, or worse, her bloody body chewed on by sharks? It would be the ultimate reverse God-wink. Like being flipped off by the universe.
Shake it off, she told herself, with a ragged laugh. Stop being such a drama queen. This last stretch of seawall was treacherous, battered by the last hurricane to slam against the coast. She stepped carefully onto the weedy embankment, her shoes slipping a bit on the wet grass. Ahead, the light was flashing off and on. Semaphore code. He’d taught himself from an old navy handbook he’d found somewhere, and he got off on signaling her all kinds of dirty phrases when he arrived early and knew she was approaching. She thought of it as his version of foreplay.
God, she was going to miss him. Miss the fun, the spontaneity, and yeah, the sheer excitement, the terror, the thrill of crossing the line and stepping outside the good-girl façade she’d spent a lifetime constructing. But not the sex. He actually wasn’t a skillful lover, but then it had never really been about that. Had it?
Just ahead she saw the familiar clump of oleander bushes that marked the boundary line of the property and jutted out onto the seawall. There was no going around that thicket. She ducked her head and reached up to push a branch out of her way. Her hand slipped and the branch whipped back, slapping her hard across the face. She screeched, more in surprise than pain, but the cry died in her throat as an arm clamped around her windpipe.
The last thing she saw, right before she blacked out, was the flashing light at the end of the dock spelling out a word. H-U-R-R-Y.
As she inched along on her back beneath the rotting foundation of the Tattnall Street house, Hattie Kavanaugh was already having second thoughts. About her insistence on inspecting the corroded cast-iron pipes herself, instead of taking her plumber’s word. About all the money Kavanaugh and Son had already sunk into this 157-year-old magnificent wreck. About not owning one of those wheeled things auto mechanics used—what were they called? Creepers? But mostly, she was having second thoughts about that second cup of coffee she’d gulped just before being summoned to the house they were restoring in Savannah’s historic district.
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