Oak Island Chapter 11: The holiday season

Oak Island Chapter 11: The holiday season

A Chapter by SweetNutmeg
"

The holiday season

"

Chapter Eleven


I didn't start crying until Cheryl left me alone in her guest bedroom. Instead of unpacking my things, I sank onto the bed and let the grief roll over me. I loved Ezra. We had built a life together. I was telling him the truth when I said I was sorry to leave him. There were so many things I loved about him, but... he was intolerable.



***



Ted acted as though a surprise guest on Sunday morning was perfectly normal, and invited me to join them for brunch. Although I didn't have much appetite, staying home alone didn't seem like a good idea, so I accepted. We got to Marisol's in time to get a table looking out on the courtyard. Skipping mimosas, I mainly pushed around some french toast.


You'll be wanting a new place?” asked Cheryl. “You're not keeping the apartment?”


Oh no, that apartment is way out of my reach. Ezra and I could afford it together, but certainly not by myself.”


I'll ask Janine if she knows of something available. That woman hears everything.”


Thanks, Cheryl.” Janine would now be the first to know Ezra and I had broken up. Well, it was going to get around eventually.


Ted managed to entertain me with his stories of the well-heeled customers he sold furniture to. Apparently there was a rich supply of Saudi Arabian princesses, which I never would have guessed. Why they would settle in Columbia, I couldn't imagine, but they did, and they liked Ted. It took my mind off Ezra for a while.




***


It was kind of Cheryl and Ted to put me up, but I planned to make my stay with them as short as possible. It being the week of Thanksgiving, it was hard to get real estate appointments to see prospective apartments, but by Tuesday evening I had looked at several apartments in Mantville. It turned out Janine did hear of everything, and she gave me an inside line on a very nice place in historic Mantville.


I met with the real estate agent Wednesday afternoon. I was early so I looked around a bit outside. It was an old building, with tall narrow windows and crusted with decorative gingerbread work. The porch was big compared to the rest of the building. I would be seeing the downstairs apartment and it would have living room windows looking out on the porch. With a few hanging baskets of ferns, it would be lovely. When the real estate agent let me in, I found the apartment much smaller than my current apartment with Ezra, but it was filled with small touches not found in modern houses. Looking around, I loved the little details... the interior doors had glass door handles, there was a linen closet in the hallway, there was even an ironing board that folded out from the wall. And it was beautiful. The bathroom was floored with tiny hexagonal tiles and the bathtub was huge. The hardwood floors were gorgeous, recently refinished and gleaming. It had modern amenities as well, central air and heat, a dishwasher and a compact washer/dryer set. I wanted it. I signed the lease with great relief. Tomorrow was Thanksgiving and I was damn lucky to be shown a place on Wednesday, much less sign a lease.


The next day I spent Thanksgiving with Cheryl and Ted. It was a quiet, low key celebration, just the three of us, and I went to bed early.



***


Most of the furniture we had in our apartment belonged to Ezra, so Saturday I called on Ted at his store. I needed a bed and a couch of some sort. He helped me choose a crimson love seat with a few watercolor stripe throw pillows in cream and brown. It wasn't what I would have chosen on my own, but Ted was right, they looked wonderful together, and he assured me the colors would complement the hardwood floors. I looked at the price of their mattress sets and decided I could get that elsewhere.


Moving out mainly entailed packing my clothes and housewares. I took the next Monday off to move out while Ezra was at work. I also took delivery of the mattress set I'd bought at the local outlet store and the love seat. I could acquire everything else I needed in time. Ted, who helped me move, had some other good ideas for décor. I was grateful to him for helping me on his day off. I had been anxious Ezra might be there and mainly wanted Ted there in case of a scene.


Once things were in place, I took a trip to the nearest Target to pick up some essentials and bed clothes. I was contemplating coffee makers when I heard a familiar voice. Craning to see over the display shelves, I saw Leo. I studiously went back to my examination of coffee makers, and turned my face away as I heard him pass. I didn't want to see Leo now. I was still stressed out about moving in and getting settled, on top of feeling emotionally wrung out after the Ezra stuff. And some tiny part of me felt too proud to talk to Leo, when I had just broken up with Ezra.


That night, curled up on my new love seat and watching a Netflix movie, Ezra's ringtone sounded and I automatically answered without thinking about it. Damn.


Cassie, please talk to me.” He was drunk. “I didn't believe it was true until I saw your clothes gone. I'm broken without you.”


Ezra--” I began, but he cut me off.


You can't, Cassie. You don't know what you mean to me. You're the only woman who ever loved me. Please don't do this.”


Ezra,” I said quietly, “It's over. It's done. Nothing will change it. I'm sorry but there's nothing more to say. You need to not contact me again.”


You don't understand, Cassie"” I didn't wait to hear what I didn't understand. I hung up and immediately blocked his numbers, cell and work.


***


After work on Tuesday, I came home to an empty apartment. It was empty of furniture and decorations, but it was empty of Ezra too. I had no companionship to look forward to. I did notice, through my unhappiness, how much less stressful my life was without him. I realized I had been walking on eggshells the last year or so. I had accommodated my life to suit Ezra. I didn't have to look forward to any more tedious social events where I was treated like a second class citizen. I didn't have to worry about provoking his anger. I didn't have to defer to him on every choice and topic. I didn't have to cringe every time someone else was the target of his anger.


I also realized I had leaned on Ezra financially. I had lived a more extravagant life than I really had money for. Ezra had always picked up the tab on our more expensive items like wine and vacations. I would miss the luxuries, but my rent alone would be less than my share was on our old apartment. I could put more money in savings, without the constant expenses of a lavish lifestyle. I was raised on very little money and I was accustomed to plain, down home cooking. Sure, steak au poivre was nice, but I liked mac and cheese too. I didn't need a constant flow of delicacies to make me happy.


I hadn't found time to grocery shop yet, so I ordered pizza. I could shop after dinner. What else did I have to look forward to?


***


Time went on. Aunt Pam and Cheryl both called a bit more than usual. I blessed Cheryl for not saying 'I told you so.' She could have bad mouthed Ezra to try to make me feel better about my decision, but that wouldn't have really helped. I still loved him and still had fond memories of our good times. Anger wouldn't make the pain go away.


I was getting used to the single life. Paring down my recipes to serve one was not always easy. On a Monday night a few weeks later, I stood at the meat counter of the grocery store near my new home, trying to decide if I should cook an entire rib eye steak with leftovers, or cut it in half before cooking and freeze part. Neither choice seemed good. I debated getting filet mignon, as it was smaller. But I really preferred rib eye. Maybe I should just give up steak as an idea?


Cassie!”


It was Leo. I put down the filet mignon I was inspecting and received his hug.


What are you doing in this part of town?” Leo asked. “I thought you guys lived in north Mantville.”


I moved last month. I'm living here, southside.” I had forgotten. When I visited Leo early this fall, his house was here in the southside historic district too.


I'm surprised I haven't run into you sooner. Southside is like a small town. How do ya'll like it?”


It's just me. Ezra and I aren't together any more.”


I'm sorry, Cassie."


"Thanks," I said. 


He looked at me seriously and asked, "How are you doing?”


I thought about this question. How was I doing? I was no longer crying every night. I was enjoying the diminished stress in my life. I still felt flat, but not as bad as last week, or the week before. I seemed to be getting over the break up.


I'm doing ok.” That seemed a lame answer but I couldn't think of how to describe the lifting pall of grief, the incremental improvements.


Leo lifted an eyebrow. I could still read his face and he was skeptical.


No, really, I'm doing better than I was at first. I'm adjusting.” I laughed. “Cooking for one is more challenging than I'd anticipated.” I explained my steak debate.


You know what the solution is, don't you?”


I shook my head.


Invite a friend over to share. Most people wouldn't say no to a rib eye steak. Especially if they know what a good chef you are.”


Laughing, I skirted the veiled suggestion to ask him over and said, “This really is one of those first world problems. I think I'll just have some fish tonight.” I prepared to push my grocery cart to the seafood counter.


Give me a call, Cassie. Any time you like.”


***


Friday was Christmas. Ezra and I had planned to go skiing for Christmas. I found I didn't mind missing out on that. I never liked the cold and the idea of skiing actually frightened me a bit.


From my years in college with no family to speak of, I was used to tagging along to join other families for Christmas or spending the day alone. Cheryl and Ted were going out west to spend the holidays with Ted's family, so this year I planned to stay home and do some laundry and cleaning, and catch up on The Hand Maid's Tale. I had missed the last couple of episodes.


Janine had other ideas. When Cheryl mentioned to Janine that I'd be alone this Christmas, she immediately called me and insisted I join her and Henry in their mid-day family dinner. I wasn't opposed to the idea. I could watch The Hand Maid's Tale on Christmas Eve.


I was off Thursday, Christmas Eve, and planned a trip to Martin's Wine Cellar to pick up some wine for Janine and Henry. I wrapped up in my coat and scarf late that morning. It rarely got below freezing in Columbia, but I was a native and not tolerant of cold. Cornell had been brutal in the winter and I had been happy to leave that aspect behind.


The parking lot was packed. I nabbed a space as a Mercedes was pulling out, and hurried in. There was a cheerful hubbub inside. It lifted my mood and got me into the spirit of things. I threaded my way through clumps of well-to-do Columbians and managed to find two very good bottles of red. At the register I added two Christmas wine bags, to make my gift festive. On my way out I saw Ezra in his BMW pulling into the lot. I hurried to my car and managed to avoid being seen. That was a close call. Mantville was small and eventually I would run into him with no escape route, but I was glad to miss him today.


Janine and Henry lived quite far out from the city center. My GPS guided me deeper into the country and after 20 minutes I arrived at their house. They had been doing well for themselves and their large house stood on a lawn, surrounded by woods. Bundled in my coat and scarf, I made my way up the walkway with my gifts in hand. I noticed a blue pickup truck parked nearby. It was obviously a work truck, with one of those locked boxes for valuable tools. I felt like I had seen it somewhere before, but couldn't think of where.


That was explained when I entered Janine and Henry's house. I knocked on the door. Henry opened the door and greeted me with a Merry Christmas. I came into the foyer and was removing my coat when I saw Leo in the living room. That was his pickup truck. He wasn't looking my way and hadn't noticed me yet. I hadn't decided how I felt about seeing him here before Janine came forward to greet me and invite me into the living room. When Leo turned, his look told me he wasn't aware I'd be a guest today. I had little attention for him, though, as Janine was introducing me to her sister Heather and her brother-in-law Rudy. I remembered Heather being around in the background when Janine, Cheryl, Marie and I would have sleep overs, an older sister with no time for giggly girls. I said so.


Oh, you weren't that giggly. It was mainly Cheryl and Janine. What have you been doing since then?”


For once I could be proud of my Cornell diploma and my accounting job at a well-known corporation. Heather and Rudy were obviously impressed. It was nice to get a little acknowledgment for my hard work for once. Ezra's friends didn't have much admiration for hard work in itself.


Heather had done well also, opening a successful greeting card and stationary store in southside, on Mantville's little Main Street.


You have all those lovely things with dragonflies? I've been in there several times. It has such a relaxing atmosphere. Where do you get all of your dragonfly stuff?”


Heather confessed that the store was a way to indulge her love for the delicate insect. She described how she obtained many of her items. I had some knowledge of acquiring and distributing products and we were involved in a stimulating conversation when Leo approached.


Leo had a big hug for me as well as a kiss on the cheek. He kept one hand on the small of my back as we turned to Heather again. I was flustered by this intimate gesture and was very glad when Henry invited me to try some of the wine he and Janine had chosen for dinner.


I didn't know how I felt about Leo's obvious interest in me. I wasn't with Ezra any more, I was single, so honor did not oblige me to reject him out of hand. I had choice. What did I want? A party was not a good place to plumb the depths of your soul and I still had not decided when we were seated for our mid afternoon dinner.


It was a sumptuous meal, starring a huge crown roast of pork. Roasted vegetables and potatoes, along with wild rice stuffing and butternut squash, completed the meal. We drank an excellent pinot noir.


During our dinner, I discovered Janine and Henry had been inviting Leo for Christmas dinner for several years now. I got the feeling Janine enjoyed collecting the strays of the holidays, inviting the lone and the lonely to join them. It was a kind service and showed her big heart. It also indicated that Leo had been single for several years.


As dinner progressed, I felt like I knew Leo and I felt like I didn't know him at all. So much about him had stayed the same through all these years, but much had changed as well. He was as familiar as the back of my hand, but was doing all these unexpected things. I was having trouble matching up my memories with the reality in front of me.


He still had his sense of humor. Heather was trying to describe a small figurine she carried in the store. She seemed to be grasping for a word to convey her meaning. Leo suggested 'dainty,' and glanced at me. Only the corners of his mouth curved and his eyes flashed my way only momentarily, but everything told me he had inserted that word for my benefit. I had a hard time not laughing out loud. He seemed to sense this and I could feel his amusement increase.


That sounds like something Cassie would like, Heather.”


Heather said, “You're welcome to come to the store any time and I can show it to you.”


That would be lovely,” I responded and gave Leo another look. Heather looked slightly puzzled, so I corralled my attention and focused on Heather alone. “Are you usually at the store on Saturdays?”


She assured me that she was always there on Saturdays and I promised to come in soon. I would buy that damn thing just to make up for Leo's hijinks.


He didn't make any more private jokes, but every now and then glanced my way, amusement still in his eyes. This was the Leo I loved. One thing Ezra and all of his friends were entirely missing was a sense of humor. Usually their laughter was unkind and at someone else's expense. There is no way I could have teased Ezra about anything. I had missed playful, silly exchanges like this.


After a delicious cherry pie, we adjourned to the living room where we enjoyed our coffee. Our conversation ranged widely, from tending African violets, world travel, living in cold climates, skiing, other sports, and finally childhood memories. We were very merry until fatigue hit me like a hammer at nine o'clock.


When I announced my intention of leaving, Janine suggested Leo walk me to my car. I wondered about this until he picked up a large flashlight in the foyer and we stepped out into pitch darkness. There was no moon, only stars. It was overcast so often in Columbia that we rarely saw stars, but tonight it was cold and clear. We reached my Camry and Leo clicked off the flashlight. He seemed in no hurry to go back inside. Instead he turned his face up to the stars.


Look,” he said, pointing. “There's Orion.”


I looked up as well, following his pointing finger. There were many stars, some bright, some less so, but I couldn't see a figure holding a bow and arrow. I never could.


I guess I'm not very good at star gazing. It just looks like stars to me.”


Leo came to stand behind me and directed my gaze with his finger to a line of bright stars, very close together. “Those three are his belt.” When he dropped his hand, it came to rest on my shoulder. A thrilling energy shot through me and I shivered.


You're cold.” He put his arm around me and pulled me closer. My eyes had adjusted and I could see his silhouette when I turned to face him. As he had on Halloween, he brought one large hand up to cradle my face, fingers sliding into my hair. Once again he brushed the corner of my mouth with his thumb. This time I did not pull away.


His lips were sweet and tasted like cherries. When we finally broke apart, I could see his eyes glinting in the star light.


Cassie, I love you. I've waited for this for so long. I've always loved you.” 



© 2017 SweetNutmeg


Author's Note

SweetNutmeg
Thank you for reading. Any and all comments are welcome. I am especially interested if this chapter feels rushed.

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Featured Review

Huh! I guess Ezra wasn't quite as terrible as I had thought. She could get in and out without trouble which is good. I did like the drunken call from him, it fits his character.

I was a little confused when it said she came home to an empty apartment. Empty of Ezra, yes, but hadn't she just finished buying some things? She took delivery of a loveseat so the place isn't completely empty, it made me wonder for a moment if someone had come and taken all of her things.

It doesn't feel rushed to me at all. She almost bumps into Leo, then bumps into him and then he's there for Christmas dinner as another guest. Methodically paced. And the kiss at the end of the chapter was sweet, and again not rushed because you don't have her bursting out with feelings. You don't even give us her thoughts which I actually like, because we can wonder for a bit how she's going to react. She let him get this far, but she's still healing from the break-up with Ezra.

It feels very solid to me.

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

SweetNutmeg

2 Years Ago

Thank you for letting me know you were confused. When I went back and reread it, I see what you mean.. read more



Reviews

Leo, Leo, Leo you got to hand to the guy when the iron is hot let's hope he finally gets the girl. nicely written.

Posted 9 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

SweetNutmeg

9 Months Ago

Thanks for reading and reviewing.
I really like how Cassie is getting back to her roots or so to speak. Her life was so wrapped up in Ezra that she did not even realize that she was losing her identity. Nice chapter. Can't wait to read the rest.

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

SweetNutmeg

2 Years Ago

Thanks for reading and reviewing. I appreciate your comments.
Oh my heart. Please tell me there will be more coming soon. I mean, she is learning to readjust to being on her own again, and getting over Ezra and all that. Plus the fact that she almost ran into Ezra once, means that can happen again, and what if next time, she does run into him, she is with Leo...That be interesting to see and read. I am sure Ezra has not gotten over the fact that she left him, not so much because he misses her, just that he no longer has someone under his control, and he will not go away, just like that.
Loved what you added so far...

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

SweetNutmeg

2 Years Ago

Thank you for your very kind review! You're right, people like Ezra rarely just fade away. We'll see.. read more
Huh! I guess Ezra wasn't quite as terrible as I had thought. She could get in and out without trouble which is good. I did like the drunken call from him, it fits his character.

I was a little confused when it said she came home to an empty apartment. Empty of Ezra, yes, but hadn't she just finished buying some things? She took delivery of a loveseat so the place isn't completely empty, it made me wonder for a moment if someone had come and taken all of her things.

It doesn't feel rushed to me at all. She almost bumps into Leo, then bumps into him and then he's there for Christmas dinner as another guest. Methodically paced. And the kiss at the end of the chapter was sweet, and again not rushed because you don't have her bursting out with feelings. You don't even give us her thoughts which I actually like, because we can wonder for a bit how she's going to react. She let him get this far, but she's still healing from the break-up with Ezra.

It feels very solid to me.

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

SweetNutmeg

2 Years Ago

Thank you for letting me know you were confused. When I went back and reread it, I see what you mean.. read more

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Added on July 10, 2017
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SweetNutmeg
SweetNutmeg

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I am back and returning all reviews of "Phoenix." I'm here to improve my writing. I love critiques that give me critical feedback, as well as praise. (Although, I do like praise. Gotta be honest.) .. more..

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