At eight a.m. the next morning, Sara sat down at the breakfast table and had her toast and coffee. She was going to go back to work for the first time since she left the office to go to the hospital and find out her husband was dead. She knew that people would want to be consoling. They would want to give her hugs and tell her how sorry they were and she was really trying to mentally prepare for this. She wanted to get to a place where she wouldn’t break down and cry every time someone who didn’t know her husband at all told her how sorry they were that he was dead.
“It’s okay, Sara,” she said out loud to herself. “You will get through this. You will.”
Two hours later she thought that she was going to hyperventilate. It had taken her thirty minutes just to get from the parking lot to her desk. The hugs and arm-pats had started at her car and did not stop. At one point she went to the bathroom just to get away from the people stopping by her desk. They were all so nice, but if they didn’t stop being sorry she was going to scream.
At ten-fifteen she knocked on Mr. Hart’s door.
“Yes, Sara. Come in, come in,” Mr. Hart beckoned in his usual good-natured tone. “What is it, my dear?”
“I need a little air. I’m just going to step around the corner to the coffee shop. Linda will be taking your calls for me while I’m out. Can I get you anything before I go? Or while I’m there?”
“No, no. I have everything I need. The Petersons are coming in at eleven to do their closing on that vacation home they are buying. Do you think you can be here for that? They like you so much, I think that it will be good if you were here.”
“Oh, yes, I’ll be back before then. This will just be a quick break.” Sara backed out and closed the door behind her, heading straight for the back entrance so that she could hopefully avoid anymore hugs.
Once Sara stepped outside she felt immediately better. Though the sun beat down and the September heat was already in full force, her breathing and heart rate had slowed to normal levels. The coffee shop was just around the corner and she headed straight there.
There was a twinkling sound from an old bell above the door when Sara stepped inside. This was one of her favorite places in Savannah. The atmosphere was warm and inviting, with couches and overstuffed chairs situated on a small loft with a low ceiling. It had all the prerequisites for a coffee shop – dark painted walls, a collection of magazines and old books, and wi-fi. She walked up to the counter and ordered an iced decaf latte. Even though she wasn’t giving up caffeine altogether, she was still trying to keep the stimulant to a minimum. She went over to one of the small couches and picked up a magazine while waiting for her order.
She had only been there for a few moments when she felt a presence standing over her. She looked up.
“Mrs. Carraway,” James Overman said, looking at her and smiling.
“Oh my goodness! Mr. Overman. What in the world are you doing here?” She caught herself, realizing how she must have sounded. “I mean, not that you shouldn’t be here. It’s a free country and all. I guess I mean, what brings you here?”
James continued to smile. “Please call me James.”
“And I’m Sara.”
“Okay then, Sara. Well,” he explained. “I’m actually here in town for a job interview.”
“Oh,” Sara said, puzzled. “But I thought you worked for the mortuary back in Oden.”
“No, I was in between jobs, and had moved back home for a time waiting to find something else. I actually have a degree in Computer Engineering from Tech. SCAD has an opening for an IT job. I interviewed just around the corner. I need to go for a second interview with another person after lunch, but saw this coffee shop and decided to pass the time in here. I have some work I can get done on my laptop. And I need to look for a place to live. Thought I would check out the rental paper.”
Did he really just say he needed a place to live? Sara thought, a wild hope building inside her. Was it possible? She barely knew this man. But he knew her secret, and he was someone she could trust. She wasn’t sure how she knew this, but she did.
“When will you find out about the job?”
“Actually, the guy I interviewed with this morning said that as far as he could tell I was the most qualified applicant. I’m sure I’ll have to wait a few days to find out.”
A girl at the counter called out “Betty Boop, order up.”
Sara started to get up. “That’s me.”
“Betty Boop?” he asked, one eyebrow cocked.
“It’s just a name,” she said, smiling.
James motioned for her to sit down.
“I’ll get it for you. Will you watch my bag?”
“Sure. Thanks.” James walked down the stairs to the counter. Sara didn’t know how to proceed. Should she just ask him? What would it hurt? He knew all there was to know about the toughest parts of her life. Why not share the current situation with him? He could always say no.
James had returned with both of their coffee cups. He sat hers on the table in front of her and sat across from her in one of the easy chairs. They were the only two people up there in the nook. Sara sat up and took a sip of her coffee.
James looked at her. “So, how are things, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Okay, I guess. I started back at work this morning. Everyone is too nice. Too sympathetic. Iknow they mean well, but how can I get on with my life if no one lets me forget that he’s gone.” Sara stopped, closed her mouth and looked at James in embarassment. For some unknown reason she felt completely at ease with this relative stranger.
“Well, like you said, they mean well. I guess there’s no way around it. Not for the first few days anyway.” He looked down at his coffee. “Have you told anyone else about your…ah…other problem?”
“No. I left Oden after the burial on Wednesday. There wasn’t any time to tell Eve. That’s my sister.”
“Yea,” he replied. “I remember her.”
And I have some friends here, but no one I feel close enough to spill this to.” She looked at him with a sheepish grin. “I mean – I didn’t mean to tell you. But now that you know, it feels okay to talk to you about it. I hope that’s okay.”
“I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t care. Honestly. If there’s ever anything I can do, you only have to ask.”
He didn’t mean it like that, Sara thought. Don’t even think it!
But it was too late. There was no way that she could survive without a roommate and here was one hand-delivered to her, as if in answer to a prayer.
“Well, now that you mention it…” Sara looked over at James who was staring back, that eyebrow up again in a questioning expression.
“Yes?” James asked.
“You say you need a place to live. Well, I need someone to live with me.”
The statement just sat there between them for a moment. Sara didn’t know if James was going to bolt or what.
“Wow. Do you mind me asking why?”
Sara felt like she wanted to sink into the floor. What was she thinking?
“Yeah, sure. I…William didn’t leave any life insurance. And on my salary alone, I can’t afford my bills. I’m going to lose the house unless I can get someone to live with me, or sell the house. But I would only have a few months to sell the house. The money will run out after that.” Sara felt the tears come to her eyes at the thought of having to move right now. “And I can’t. I can’t leave that house right now. I need time to let go of him.” And then she couldn’t say anymore without breaking down. So she didn’t.
How did I get here? James thought to himself, as Sara finished her plea and looked away from him to compose herself. The job at SCAD had just come open last week. He actually had already applied online when he met Sara at the funeral home, so he couldn’t claim to be in Savannah in hopes of meeting her.
And then there she had been, just sitting in the chair looking just as beautiful and sad as she did last week. After he helped her to bury her husband and she drove away from the cemetary, he couldn’t stop thinking about her. Driving down to Savannah today, he had played their moments together over and over again, wondering what she was going to do about her pregnancy. He almost left the coffee shop when he saw her because it seemed too unreal to even be possible. Yet here she was and she was asking him to move in with her.
But worst of all was that she was asking him to help her. There was no way that he could deny help to this woman. The request she made must have cost her a lot, considering that her husband had only been dead two weeks, and that she was pregnant. He had stepped right into this mess and he was going to have to live in it. He looked up from his thoughts when he realized that she was getting up to leave.
“Hey, where are you going?”
“Look, I shouldn’t have even asked. I don’t know why I did. Please don’t feel obligated to say yes. It’s terrible of me to put you in this position.” Sara put out her hand to James who stood up when she did and blocked her way down the stairs.
“Sara, please wait. You just surprised me that’s all. I needed a minute to think. Can I ask a couple of questions about the house?”
She looked up at him now. She had forgotten how tall he was compared to her.
“Sure. Yes. Of, course.”
“So – where is your house?”
“Oh, um, it’s in Ardsley Park, about 10 minutes uptown from here.”
“Would I have my own bathroom?”
“Yes. There are two bathrooms. One is attached to the master bedroom, and the other is off of a hallway.”
“Can I see the house before I say yes?”
Sara hadn’t even considered that he might want to see the house first. It was a perfectly reasonable request. “Oh, well, sure. Would you want to see it at lunch, or could you wait until after five? I get off at five and could meet you there at five-thirty?”
This was all happening so fast, but if he said yes, Sara would have a huge weight lifted from her shoulders.
“Okay, what’s the address?”
Sara bent down to the table in front of her and wrote down her address. She handed the paper to James.
“Here you go. So you’ll consider it?” James felt his ability to say no melt when he looked at her. He was her knight in shining armor again.
“Sure, sure. I’ll see you at five-thirty.”
“Okay, five-thirty.” They shook hands.
Sara spent the rest of Monday trying to avoid her co-workers. Luckily, the vacation home closing involving the Petersons took longer than expected requiring her to be behind closed doors in a conference room, or on the phone for Mr. Hart most of the afternoon. When the closing was all wrapped up at four-thirty, Mr. Hart told Sara to go on home.
“Are you sure, sir? I can stay. I’m okay if you need me to finish anything up for you.”
“No, no, Sara. That was enough work for me, as well. I hate when things aren’t in order. That seller really made us work for our fee today, and I’m ready to go home. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Now she was at home and had an hour to wait for James to come and see the house. She was so busy through the day, that she didn’t really have time to think of the implications of what she had asked. She had asked a man to come and live with her only two weeks after her husband had died. What were people going to think? Especially when her belly began to grow.
Well, I can worry about what people will think, or whether or not I have a place to live, Sara thought, her decision now firm in her mind. I think that a place to live is more important. I’ll just have to explain to Christine and Miss Jane. Surely, they’ll understand. Eve and Miss Emily shouldn’t find out anyway, so I won’t worry about them right now.
Sara looked around her living and dining room. The boxes of William’s things were still stacked around the room and other than look through files and pack, she hadn’t done much else through the weekend. The whole place really was a mess.
She started in the kitchen and worked her way through the house wiping down counters and tables, and picking up clutter. The boxes she couldn’t do much about right now and the second bedroom had worked as William’s office. His drafting desk and equipment were still out as Sara had been reluctant to part with them. She could still see him in there late at night, bent over his desk, drawing and erasing. But if James was going to sleep in that room, all of those things would have to find another home.
By the time, she had straightened both bathrooms, it was five-thirty and she just had time to glance in the mirror and decide not to worry about her late-in-the-day make-up or her sad mousey hair before the door bell rang.
Well, here we go, she thought before walking to the door.
James pulled up in front of the small Craftsman style house right at five-thirty. He had actually driven by the house a few times. After he left Sara in the coffee shop he didn’t have anywhere else to be for a couple of hours so he decided to go ahead and find the house early. It was a one-story clapboard home, painted white with green trim and a green front door. There was a swing on the front porch and plenty of flowers in pots on the steps and in the beds out front. Sara and William must have fallen in love with it right off. It was a great house.
James parked by the street and stepped out into the humidity. He walked slowly up the sidewalk and front steps. He rang the doorbell once and then turned around and faced the street, getting a feel for what it would be like to call this place home.
“Hi.” James turned around at the sound of Sara’s voice behind him.
“Hello, again.” He motioned to the house. “I found it.”
“So I see. Won’t you come in?” Sara sounded nervous.
“Thanks. You have a beautiful home,” James said as he walked into the dark gray living room with natural stained trim and what looked like a working fireplace. The room was connected to a dining room by a pair of french doors.
“It’s a mess, I know. Sorry about that.” Sara looked around realizing how the clutter must seem to an outsider.
“No worries. You should have seen the apartment I lived in up in Decatur. What a mess! At least your place smells good.”
Sara looked at James. Was this guy for real? Could her luck be so great as to have found the one guy in the whole world who put her at ease, no matter what?
“Ok…well…” Sara trailed off as she tried to think of what to say.
“And this is the living room, I suppose?”
“Yes, of course, this is the living room,” Sara said, putting her face in her hands. “And this is a couch. And over here is a television. The rest of the obvious tour is through these doors.”
As Sara showed him the rest of the house, James was surprised at how perfect this seemed. He did need a place to live. It would be nice to live in a house in a great part of town instead of a generic apartment complex. The house was great, there was no need to put down deposits for a lot of utilities and it was nice to be needed.
When the tour was complete and they were back in the living room, Sara said “Well, what do you think?”
“How much would the rent be?”
“I was thinking six hundred plus utilities? Is that too much?”
James was sure the mortgage had to be more.
“Is that enough? I mean, there’s no point in me living here if I’m not actually helping you out enough for you to be able to keep the house.”
Sara looked sheepish. “Well, actually half of the mortgage would be seven fifty a month. But I just thought that might be too much to live in a house. You could probably rent an apartment for less.”
“Not to shoot myself in the foot, but apartments in this area start at around seven to eight hundred dollars. So I would be fine with seven fifty. Would you be expecting any sort of deposit?”
“No. I trust you. I mean, if I didn’t trust you I certainly wouldn’t be asking you to live with me. Do you want to sign a lease or anything?”
“Not unless you want me to. I trust you as well. And that way, if you decide to put the house on the market and it sells then you won’t have to worry about a lease that you have obligated yourself to. Will you be trying to sell?”
“I think I will. I mean, I can’t imagine that you would want to live here with me and a screaming newborn.”
James hadn’t really thought about that.
“Well, I guess that’s true. It would be weird.” James laughed. “I’ve never been around a baby before. Especially not a newborn. So if you need any help getting things ready to sell, just let me know.”
“So you’ll stay?”
Just at that moment, James cell phone rang. He pulled it out, looked at the number and turned to Sara. “It’s the job. I need to take this.”
“Sure, I’ll just go into the kitchen.”
Sara pulled out a couple of glasses and filled them with lemonade from the fridge. By the time she was done, James had come into the kitchen as well.
“So?” she asked.
“That was the first person I interviewed with,” James said with a smile. “He just wanted to let me know his boss really liked me. My resume looks good, but they want to follow up on my references.”
“But you don’t know yet.”
“No, but he said I should know by Friday at the latest.” James rubbed his temple. “Can I let you know about the place when I know about the job?”
“Of course. I wouldn’t want you to commit if you didn’t even know if you had a job.” Sara felt a little let down by the uncertainty. The shaky feeling that she’d had all weekend returned.
“I need to um, you know…” James stammered, as he pointed in the direction of the bathroom.
“Oh my god, of course. I’ll take these to the porch.” Sara held up both glasses of lemonade, as James made his way towards the hallway.
After a minute or so, James joined Sara on the porch. She handed him his glass as he sat down beside her on the top step. They sat silent for a moment, the shadows lengthening on the tree-lined street.
“So, I’m pretty hungry right now,” Sara said, looking straight ahead.
“As am I,” James replied, sipping on his glass of lemonade.
“Order in or go out?” Sara asked.
“Well, what kind of food do you like?”
“I like just about anything,” Sara said. “But any day of the week, there’s nothing I like better than sushi. I know a great little place on Habersham if you want. Of course, you have to drive back to Oden tonight, don’t you?”
“Yeah – but I can’t go hungry, and I love sushi. If we go now, we’ll be done by nine and I can be home before midnight.”
“Okay.” Sara got up from the steps. “Let me go and brush my hair and we can head on. The restaurant is just a few blocks from here. We could walk, but I think we would melt before we got there.”
Sara walked inside. As the screen door closed behind him, James stretched out his legs and leaned back on his elbows, looking up at the trees and the sky. Very few cars had driven by since he and Sara sat down. People were out and about walking their dogs and pushing strollers. He could see a few other people sitting out on porches or working in their front gardens. Dogwood trees lined the street on both sides, creating shade and a great aesthetic.
I bet those trees are amazing in the spring he thought, imagining the white blossoms. And he could pick out azaleas and hydrangeas in many of the yards. Don’t get too comfortable, James Overman, he said to himself.
Just then Sara came out of the house. She had changed into another one of those light cotton dresses that she had worn when she was burying her husband. She had pulled her hair back into a ponytail and had done something to her face. She looked fresh and vibrant and quite beautiful.
“Well, let’s go then,” Sara said, swinging her keys. “I’ll drive.”
“Yes, ma’am,” James answered, as he followed her down the sidewalk.