Pirates of Pamlico Sound: Chapter 2

🏴 Present Day * Nags Head, North Carolina.

The magic had slipped away, Bernice Sarris thought to herself over a Starbucks grande cappuccino. Some people found energy in coffee; she found solace. The adolescent coffeemongers knew her preference — a harmonic balance between liquid and froth, a liberal coating of cinnamon — and upon seeing her enter the shop they eagerly prepared her order this way without her having to utter a word. Ironically, the fact that she’d become a consumer with a “usual” order somewhere also upset her slightly, and this feeling would also be assuaged as of the first glorious sip.

Collin had grown distant, removed, increasingly preoccupied with work over the years. He’d ratcheted himself up the corporate ladder one rung at a time, from staff accountant to manager to senior manager to partner, following the well worn career path of public accountants everywhere. It seemed a worthy path at the outset — the promise of success attained relatively easily if he proved worth his salt, a modicum of respectability after having passed the certified public accounting exam, and a chance to see the intimate inner-workings of hundreds of businesses and estates. Sure, there’d be long hours during tax seasons, but that would be balanced with loads of compensatory time off. As it turned out, though, the position required more and more attention as he started taking over the responsibility for managing client engagements. He became obligated to supervise and mentor staff, to pursue continuing education courses, and to attend networking functions in order to keep the business growing.

Here we are, she thought, living in a vacation paradise, and yet our own vacations have become almost burdensome at times. Last year in Orlando, Collin seemed to check his voice and e-mails ten times per day, often stepping out on their hotel terrace to have quick conversations with his staff. “E-mail me the file and I’ll try to sneak a look tonight on my laptop, okay?” he’d said one evening. And, then under his voice, she detected a remark that ruined the entire trip: “… it’ll cost me a few points with the wife, of course, but I really want to land this client.”

Two things were wrong with that, she thought. First, we were supposed to be on vacation — as in “to vacate,” “to leave,” to leave work behind for a while. Other people, other highly successful people (much more so than Collin), have accomplished this by setting their priorities straight. If the president of the United States could get away for a day or two, then Collin should be able to delegate his responsibilities for a few days. He’s a partner in the firm, after all. Second (and an order of magnitude more pressing than the first item), exactly when had she made the transformation from the passionately whispered “Bernice, my soul mate” to the surreptitiously uttered designation “the wife”?

But then, she’d balance off those criticisms with her own “requirements” in life. Bernice ran an agency that produced coupon magazines for tourists. She had hundreds of accounts to manage — restaurants, ocean excursion operations, kite shops, souvenir emporia, specialty retailers, cottage rental companies, and even this very coffee shop. They wanted to haggle with pricing, they wanted her to run “advertorials,” they wanted four-color, they wanted black and white, they wanted to know if JPGs are the preferred graphic file format. She used more monthly cell phone minutes than Collin, in fact. And, sure, she had a busy season, too. If Collin was unseen at home from mid-January through April 15, she was the one continuing the workaholism throughout the summer.

But, then again, it was his fault, damn it. She knew when to leave the phone off, where to draw the line in the proverbial sand. And, speaking of sand, when was the last time they’d taken a walk together on the beach? They used to enjoy that sort of thing — strolling barefoot along the shoreline in the evenings, stopping to appreciate the remains of tourist-built sandcastles, staring out to at the horizon for hours in hopes of seeing the families of dolphins patrolling the outer banks, and rushing to the shore to collect the prize shells washed up after a good nor’easter. Little things like that were supposed rank as primary benefits of living here.

Perhaps tonight would be different, though. The brisk fall winds have blown most of the tourists away. The only new arrivals in town over the past few weeks had been the season’s first chestnuts, which always prompted her to celebrate the completion of another work season. She and Collin would have a solid twelve weeks of normalcy, beginning tonight. I believe, she thought to herself, I may even pay a visit to Victoria’s Secret. She didn’t reckon he deserved this, but she acknowledged that a relationship is two-way. For her part, she was going to make an effort, for now. If things didn’t work out, at least she’d know she tried. She’d phoned her friend Jayne Paramara to review this plan on her way to the mall.

“God, I sound as though things are desperate, don’t I?”

“No, Bernice, I wouldn’t say desperate.”

“Because, it’s not as though we’re on the brink, you know? It’s more or less just a lull.”

“So, go ahead, then, spice things up.”

“It’s just… I don’t want to reward him for being an asshole.”

“Look, we love Collin. You two belong together,” Jayne said in typical Jayne fashion. Indian women, in Bernice’s humble opinion, could be a little too Tammy Wynette-ish — always Hindu-standing by their man. But, then again, Jayne was right. Bernice couldn’t imagine herself with anyone else.

“All right, then, Jayne. I’m almost at the mall, so I think I’ll catch up with you later. I’m going to grab a quick bite before shopping.”

“You’re having lunch? Stop in here!” Jayne and her husband owned the Outer Banks’ only Indian restaurant, a dhaba-style curry house in the Kill Devil shopping district. They’d advertised in Bernice’s magazine for years.

“No time. But, I’ll stop in soon, okay?”

“Okay, take care.”

Admittedly, it had been ten or fifteen years since she’d ventured into a lingerie shop. She wondered why. Was it because these stores fell outside her magazine’s target demographic as potential advertisers, or was it because she no longer belonged to the demographic of those young women who are still physically passionate? Don’t over-think this, she told herself. Just walk in and find something alluring.

A moment later, a perky little slut named Brittany asked if she could be of assistance. Bernice didn’t think she could be of assistance, actually. She wasn’t there to browse the crotchless panty aisle; she was there to find an attractive undergarment that would support and contour her body in a way that suggested mature love-making, not the rampant promiscuity of some cheap whore.

I really have to stop being so judgmental, Bernice thought. “Yes, actually, I’m looking for something a little conservative, and yet a little playful as well.”

“I know exactly what you need,” Brittany said.

And, by God, she did. It took a few tries in the dressing room, but she selected a chemise in hunter green silk charmeuse. It felt so sinfully pleasurable to wear, she felt it was a worthwhile investment whether or not Collin was part of the consideration. Either Brittany was some sort of mind-reader, or they had a special section set aside for anyone over forty who happened to venture in. Bernice reminded herself not to be so hard on large corporations. Sometimes, they actually do come through for you.

Her judgment had done a three-sixty by the time she’d left the store. She found herself hoping Brittany had made some sort of commission for her outstanding assistance. Even a crappy waitress usually gets fifteen percent. Why is it we don’t tip Victoria’s Secret associates?

During the ride home, she pulled the shopping bag onto the passenger seat. She slipped her arm inside and fingered the silken chemise a few times. The fabric’s seductive feel sent a twinge of anticipation through her to the point of her foot nearly slipping from the clutch. She had this experience at three consecutive red lights until thinking that she might be better off, from a safety standpoint, with the bag back on the floor. She knew Collin would be home around seven, and she planned to wait for him.

They lived on the sound-side of Nags Head not far from Jockey’s Ridge state park. It was a typical Nags Head home — stilted enough to park the car below the house, wood-rail fenced, and boasting an enormous crepe myrtle in the sandy front yard. They had a deck on the roof for evening views of the sound or for simply watching the wildlife. Raccoons made their rounds almost nightly, red and grey foxes crept through the evening shadows, and massive rabbits cautiously approached the house in the morning. Bernice didn’t eat rabbits, but their size had often prompted her to jokingly wonder how many meals one of these animals could provide. In the air, they’d seen every imaginable bird from the common gull to spectacular pelican, a few of which occasionally rested on their deck railing.

There’d be no pelicans this evening, though — at least, none that they’d be able to see, anyway — because Bernice would have the roman shades lowered in the bedroom, candles lit, and soft music playing. Who cares about pelicans? She’d thrown fresh linens on the bed, had set out a bottle of sparkling wine, and had disabled her cell phone. Who cares about seagulls? She’d bathed, brushed her long auburn hair, and slipped into the chemise. Who cares about the grey fox?

Collin had no idea what he was in for, of course. For all he knew, the night could involve some god-awful housework that he’d forgotten about, take-out pizza, and checking a few e-mails. Truth be told, he was somewhat miffed as he pulled into the driveway. He’d been trying to reach Bernice for the past hour. He’d had a taxing day and wanted to see if she might be in the mood for dinner out somewhere.

Upon opening the front door, the dimly lit first floor didn’t tip him off about the evening. He’d see the note soon enough. At first, Bernice considered not leaving a note for him. But, then she imagined that, in all likelihood, he would come inside, flip on a light, pop a beer, and turn on the television. Under this scenario, it could be an hour before he realized that he’d not seen his wife yet. The mere thought of this angered her a bit until she realized that this was all in her head. She was taking the lead tonight, though. So, she’d head off this possible snag by leaving a simple two-word note: “I’m upstairs.” She surrounded the words with a heart.

She went through a similar process for the placement of the note. If I place it on the kitchen table, she mused, he may drop his brief case on top of the note and never see it — and then we’d potentially be back to the last scenario. Now, let’s see… I could tape it to the front door. But, no, some visitor or neighbor might see it, and I can’t have a neighbor or visitor knowing that I’m upstairs waiting to make love to my husband. For one, they’d know I was home by this note. And, if they were rude enough, they might knock, and then I’d be in a position of having to ignore the knock — because there’s no way I’m answering the door dressed like this.

Mentally, these numerous processes happened quickly — perhaps covering a span of two minutes from drawing the heart to actually taping the paper to the wall next to the stairs. In the back of her mind, she doubted whether Collin could appreciate the level of detail she routinely incorporated into so many aspects of their life.

Collin walked directly past the note exactly in the way that someone might walk past a live pony standing in their living room — a highly unlikely event, and yet somehow still within the realm of possibility. Like he’d done countless times in the past, he simply flipped on the light, plopped his briefcase onto the kitchen table, groped for a Budweiser from the bottom shelf of the fridge, and began to surf the news channels.

Bernice, meanwhile, did not lose faith. She’d heard him come in, and waited patiently for him to join her. She figured he’d be another few minutes, anyway, as he got settled. But, he would take notice.

Back in the kitchen, the Weather Channel had been running a retrospective of the year’s hurricane season. Collin caught the tail end of that one then flipped over to CNN. “The Situation Room” was starting, hosted by Wolf Blitzer. “Your world — raw, unfiltered, and live.” Politics, the war, natural disasters. He’d had enough of that at work today. He flipped over to Jeopardy. Alex Trebek was reading an answer: “She was the first child of English parents born in America.”

Wow, he thought. You can’t get much closer to home than that. The contestant answered (or questioned) correctly, and Trebek rather pompously expanded upon the answer. “That’s correct for five hundred. Virginia Dare was born on Roanoke Island in 1587 to the so-called ‘lost colony’ that mysteriously disappeared without a trace soon thereafter.”

“I’ll take American History for a thousand, Alex,” said the contestant.

Collin hit the “off” button and slid the remote across the countertop. It came to rest with a clank against the base of the television. Seemed like a loud clank, he thought. Or, perhaps it was the other way around. Why is it so quiet in here? He stepped out of the kitchen for a moment and looked around, noticing the emptiness. Finally, he saw the note taped to the wall.

Bernice still had high hopes for the evening. She’d poured the sparkling wine, selected the perfect CD (set on auto-repeat), and made herself comfortable. He sure was taking his time, though, she thought. Perhaps she’ll just close her eyes for a moment…

Collin snatched the note off the wall and took a look. He raised his eyebrows. This, he thought, is definitely an improvement on Mr. Trebek. He ascended the stairs.

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☠️ Jim Dee maintains his personal blog, “Hawthorne Crow,” and a web design blog called “Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine.” He’s also contributes to various Medium.com publications. You can reach him at: Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. “Chapter number” background photo atop piece is adapted from “Light Reading” by Martin (Flickr, Creative Commons).