The Mission: Reality Check (part 15)

Deborah Hendrick on Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

“I can’t believe you want me to pick out the china,” said Elijah.

“And crystal too,” said Ginny.

“Tell me again why I need to do this?”

“Because I’ve picked out everything else, including cookware and linens.”

“Towels! I could pick out towels. White!

“Too late. Come on Eli. I trust you. Men always complain because the women pick out china that’s too dainty or something. So I’d like for you select the china and the crystal. If you choose what you truly like, then we’ll both be happy.

“Ginny, this is too important. I can’t make decisions like this.”

“Eli, just ask the sales clerk to give you a piece of Old Maryland engraved; that’s the silver pattern. Then walk around and look at china displays. Something will catch your eye. Look at the crystal. When you find a crystal pattern that you like, hold it against the china and silver. See how it looks. It is work, but eventually you will find a combination that is agreeable, and that you like. The ladies will help you; they’re excellent at this. If it pleases you, it will please me.”

“Ginny my love? Why didn’t you choose the china when you picked out the silver pattern?”

“Because I picked out the silver when I was eleven.”

“Huh?”

“I went with my mother to shop for a wedding present. While she was busy I looked at all the silver flatware, and decided that I wanted the Old Maryland engraved when I got married. I’ve bought a few pieces, used ones, through the years. Teaspoons, a sugar shell, cake knife. It ages beautifully.”

“Ginny, I wish we could do this together.”

“Me too, Eli.”

*****

“You’re not going to believe this; I had a good time today. There was a lot to look at, but you were right—the ladies were terrific. Do you have any idea how many kinds of china patterns there are?”

“So you found something you liked?”

“My head is spinning. It took awhile, but I kept going back to this one. It’s an old pattern, not new. It’s black and white, and has birds all over it, with a band of platinum. The silver looked beautiful with it, and and so does the crystal. The china is Royal Crown Derby and the pattern is called Black Aves Platinum. It made me think of a shiny black grand piano, and the black and white keys. If you don’t like—”

“No Eli, this was the whole idea, for you to find something that you really liked. I know I’ll love it.”

“I hope so. Ace already bought the tea set and some Astros-red table linens to go with it. It popped on the red table cloth. But the ladies fixed up a place setting with the china, crystal, and flatware on a white damask tablecloth, with some fresh flowers … you know, to help us see it as a whole. Ginny, it was beautiful.”

“You took Ace with you? Captain Madden and Commander Gregg. Did you guys go in uniform? I bet the ladies were helpful. How many phone numbers did he get?” she laughed. “So you found some crystal that you liked?”

“Ginny, I hope you approve. I looked at a lot of Waterford, and it’s beautiful. Found my mother’s pattern. But there was just something about this William Yeoward Camilla that appealed to me. It’s not as heavy as the Waterford, but Camilla holds her own against the china and silver.”

“Elijah, you have done a good thing, and I thank you. That takes care of most of it. The Moms have done practically everything, but I still have to decide on my trousseau.

“I could do that for you. I have very strong opinions about women’s clothes, especially lingerie.”

“I bet you do. OK … you can buy anything you want. Size six. But Elijah?”

“Uh huh?”

“Leave my brother at home.”

The Mission: The Girls (part 14)

Deborah Hendrick on Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

“I don’t know why you have to choose,” said Sandy Madden. “Wear the 1920s wedding dress for the New Year’s Eve party, then change into this dress for the marriage ceremony.”

“I agree,” said Georgina. “It’s perfect.”

Ginny had bought the dresses when she found them one day in a Houston resale shop. Both dresses had been hand-made by the legendary island dressmaker, Tibby Macdhui, and bore her iconic, embroidered dressmaker’s mark, a thistle. Not knowing when, if ever, she would wear one, Ginny had carefully folded them in tissure and stored them in her cedar chest.

“I’ll need a genuine corset to wear with this one, because I am really holding it in here. The woman who wore this dress had a tiny waist. And a veil I guess, although she may have worn only flowers in her hair.”

Ginny stood in a glamorous Hollywood-style dress that could have been designed for Jean Harlow. Made entirely of lace, and bias cut, the aged ivory dress had a high neck with a choker collar, and long tight sleeves. It fit close to the body, buttoned in the back, and ended in a softly gathered, six-foot train.

“You can wear these with it,” said Sandy, opening up a flat square box. “These rope pearls were my grandmother’s, and they haven’t been worn since she passed. I tried to wear them, but I’m too short and looked like a little girl playing dress-up. These are the matching diamond and pearl drops. I did wear the earrings occasionally, but even they are a little too long for me. I’ve been saving them all these years for Elijah’s bride.”

“Oh Sandy, I can’t take your grandmothers’ pearls.”

“Ginny, none of this is an accident. This dress was meant for you. This jewelry was meant for you. And Elijah … well. He says his heart stopped beating the moment he saw you. And it didn’t start beating again until he found out Ace was your brother. Was he ever relieved.”

The women laughed, and Ginny whispered, “No, no. Don’t make me laugh. I can’t exhale.”

“I have a present for you too, Sandy,” Ginny said, “and I think now is the right time to give it to you.”

“A present for me? What ever for?” she asked in surprise.

Ginny stepped briefly into another room and came back with a large framed painting. “I started this without knowing where I was going with it, but before I finished the sketch, I knew it would be yours.”

Ginny turned the painting around and handed it to Sandy. It was a toddler with dark glossy curls and sturdy little legs, running down a garden path, holding a toy airplane as high as he could reach. The view was from behind the child’s left shoulder, with his face turned just enough to the left that a deep dimple was visible in his fat rosy cheek. It could have been any child, but it was without doubt, Elijah.

The Mission: Georgina Gregg (part 13)

Deborah Hendrick on Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

Fifteen days after Ginny called her parents in Belgium to tell them she was engaged and getting married, Georgina Gregg flew home. She stopped for a few days on the east coast, to see Ace and meet Elijah, then flew into Houston with a total lack of fanfare.

“Ginny darling!” Ginny stepped to the side to look around a woman blocking her view. “Ginny!”

“Mom?” she asked, somewhat bewildered. “Mom!” The woman pulled off her sunglasses and Ginny was amazed to discover the mother she’d said goodbye to almost two years ago, was just a memory of the woman who stood before her now.

“Look at you! Your hair is blond; you’re so thin you look adolescent! What’s going on?” begged Ginny.

“We gained so much weight — all that butter, cream, and cheese,” said Georgina. “Your father hired a nutritionist for us. It’s wonderful, just to sit down and eat what she puts in front of us. I never think about it anymore. It’s just like being a man!” she laughed. “Your father has lost fifty pounds — he had to buy all new uniforms — and I lost over thirty. And she makes us exercise too! I wanted to bring her with me.”

“But your hair?” Ginny asked.

“Oh sweetheart. Here’s the awful truth — redheads do not gray well, I think. I never found a combination of red dye that looked right, so my hairdresser suggested that I try this blond with just a touch of red. Your Dad likes it.”

“Well I should think so. You look like a movie star! Mom, is this all your luggage? This can’t be right.”

“Oh, no. A military transport will arrive in a few days with more. But we don’t have to do a thing. A courier will bring it to us. Dad will close up the house and get here by Thanksgiving, then we’ll stay until February. He’s got so much leave saved up, he’ll never use it all. Winter in Galveston sounds heavenly, don’t you think, instead of Brussels.”

Ginny maneuvered them out of the airport grounds and soon they were zooming south. About twenty-five miles from the island, Georgina raised her head and sniffed. “Oh Ginny, I can smell the Gulf of Mexico!”

The beach and water were inky black, but the sky was clear and the stars were brilliant. Georgina stood for a long time on the dark deck, breathing in the warm heavy air. She closed her eyes, concentrating on the odors: salt water, fish, ginger, jasmine, and roses. It was like a balm, and an answer to prayer.

“I like your Elijah,” she said as an opener. “So start at the beginning and tell me everything.”

The Mission: Ginny Makes a Promise (part 12)

Deborah Hendrick on Wednesday, September 27th, 2006

It took all her courage to telephone Eli, so when his answering machine picked up and demanded that she leave her name and phone number, she did precisely that and nothing else. She was still holding the phone a few moments later when it buzzed in her hand.

“Hello, this is Ginny.”

“Ginny! I was scrambling to reach the phone and then you were gone. I miss you so much. It must be very important, for you to call me,” said Eli.

“Eli. It’s wonderful to hear your voice. Yes, it is important. In two weeks I have an appointment to see a book publisher … in New York. I have a vacation day coming, so I’ll take Friday off, and fly up the Thursday night before. I thought maybe you could meet me for the weekend.”

*****

By Friday noon, Ginny had a book deal. By Friday night, she’d agreed to marry Eli. She’d barely finished her first cup of coffee on Saturday morning when Eli showed up, insisting that they go shopping for an engagement ring.

“We have plenty of time, Eli. I don’t need an engagement ring. I promise–I’ll marry you,” said Ginny. But Eli took her to Tiffany’s anyway. He wanted to buy her a lot of diamonds; she thought one would do. In the end, Ginny walked out wearing a heart-stopping, but classic diamond solitare. “You could have bought me another airplane for what this ring cost,” said Ginny, “but it’s beautiful. I love you. Thank you.”

“So when do you want to get married?” asked Eli.

“I’ll marry you today, if you’d like,” said Ginny.

Eli pulled Ginny to his chest and held her tight. “Oh Ginny, my little lamb.” Eli laughed. “Maybe we should wait until your parents and my parents can be there. I’d hate to start out married life with my mother-in-law mad at me!”

Right away they figured out that during the Christmas holiday was the best time to get married. “At the Hotel Galvez,” Ginny said. “That’s where my parents married, over forty years ago.”

“January 1st,” said Eli.

“Everyone will have a headache,” she laughed.

“No. We’ll begin the ceremony just after midnight. Let’s begin our new life and the new year together, with our family and friends. It will be the best New Year’s Eve party ever.”

The Mission: Courtship (part 11)

Deborah Hendrick on Wednesday, September 20th, 2006

Elijah suspected that he was not very good at writing letters, but if Ginny wanted a courtship via the U.S Mail, then he would comply. And it worked—Ginny loved every word he wrote, and his strong distinctive printing. She loved reading about his friends in the squadron, his funny neighbors, and what he did on his days off. And at the end of each letter, he would write a line of music for her to decipher—always something he knew she would recognize.

Ginny’s days were long and full. At work, a new estuary mapping project absorbed her days and kept her busy. She lived at the beach house full time now, on deadline and working every night to finish the paintings for the book illustrations. So she rose before five each morning, and greeted the sunrise with a pot of coffee and a large sketch pad, upon which she wrote her letters, filled with little drawings of birds, the surf, and the morning fishermen.

In his fat seventh letter, Elijah included a newspaper clipping about the squadron, some snapshots of him and his buddies, and several pages of letter. But instead of his customary snippet of music across the bottom, he taped a necklace. From a gossamer chain hung a delicate dragonfly, crusted with diamonds. Ginny didn’t need a blue box to recognize Tiffany.

“I can’t believe he just stuck this necklace in an envelope,” said Ginny, but of course she knew why he did it. She might have ignored a box.

That weekend Ginny bought a roll of color film, dug out her beloved F-3 and tripod, and began taking pictures of herself. She changed clothes a dozen times, put her hair up, pulled it back, and let it fly in the wind. It was a lot of work, but the end result was two dozen casual photographs of herself, composed with all the care and staging of a professional. And in each one, a tiny dragonfly glittered at her throat.

Big Orange

Deborah Hendrick on Saturday, September 16th, 2006

The sound came from far off, and woke him in the small hours. It got louder and louder until the familiar whumpwhumpwhump crossed over in a screaming roar that vibrated everything in his house. “Hang on!” he shouted out loud. “Big Orange is coming. Look up, and watch the sky! They’ll be there soon.”

He rolled over and sat up on the side of the bed. “Please dear Lord, let them get there in time. Give them strength for their commitment, courage for what lies ahead. Their easiest rescue ever Lord, this day. Every one comes home alive. Only tears of joy, please, Lord God Almighty. ‘Be thou exalted O God, above the heavens; let thy glory be above all the earth.'”

PRESS RELEASE: Date: September 2006

COAST GUARD RESCUES TWO AT SEA

HOUSTON Ellington Field – Coast Guard Air Station Houston rescued two men after their boat caught fire and sank, approximately 20 miles southeast of Port Bolivar around 2:35 A.M. Using approximate coordinates radioed in by another boat, the rescue helicopter found the two men after one fired a flare into the sky, when they heard the helicopter approaching.

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The Mission: Someone to Watch Over Me (part 10)

Deborah Hendrick on Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

Truly, it was not her plan to buy a bridal magazine. She reached for a copy of Vogue and pulled up Brides instead. She dropped it instantly, astonished at her mistake. But slowly, deliberately, she picked it up again, studied the cover, and took it. Then she looked at the rest of the brides’ magazines. She bought one of each. “Oh no. I can’t believe I did this. I’ll have to hide these or Max will never shut up,” thought Sandy Madden.

*****

Max sat at his computer, and pulled up his private financial accounts. There were more than a dozen. It was a habit he’d formed as a young man, to allocate funds into separate accounts. He’d discovered early on that an all-purpose savings account was not a suitable method of saving for him. Specific, measurable accounting worked best for him.

The one he was wanted was named Cufflinks. A silly name, chosen after he and Sandy had attended the wedding of a contemporary’s son—cufflinks being a traditional gift to groomsmen. His friend confided in Maxwell, what the cost of the wedding was, nearly swooning as he said it. Max began the next pay period, and had been saving for almost twenty years.

*****

Ginny wrote to the pastor first. “… and you’ll be pleased to know that I found a lovely little geode in Palo Duro Canyon. It’s a wonderful reminder of our conversation, and I thank you again for your time.”

She tore up a dozen sheets of her monogrammed Crane stationery trying to write a letter to Eli. Finally she gave up, and pulled out the middle, putting the beginning and the end together. “I’m sorry for the way I acted. Can we start over, please, and write to each other? We’ll have to correspond the old-fashioned way because I don’t have a computer here at home, and I won’t mix my private life with my work life.”

*****

Eli bought a thick shiny card with a F-22 on the front. The inside was blank. He practiced drawing a sketch several times on scratch paper with a new black felt-tip pen. Then he opened up the new card, and began drawing his picture on the inside.

It was a pilot, standing in full flight gear, holding his helmet in one hand and a small lamb in his other arm, up close to his chest. Underneath the drawing he printed, “It’s no use; I’ve bonded to the lamb, and I’ll never want another.”

The Mission: Cross-Country & Cross-Roads (part 9)

Deborah Hendrick on Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

Ginny spent a leisurely day of flying. The weather was beautiful all the way north, and when she took her turn after a big heavy and touched down at Amarillo, the late afternoon sky was brilliantly blue and clear all the way to the moon.

She was pleased and relieved as she taxied up to the big hangar and cut her motor. Amarillo was cooler than she expected, and she breathed deeply, filling her lungs with the clean dry air.

Her actions appeared purposeful. She made the arrangements for her airplane to be hangared, and then she picked up her rental car and headed into town. Just like she knew what she was doing.

Ginny found her hotel without any trouble. The big television in her room was a nice treat. So many channels. She rarely watched anything except for the news, and that was for the weather.

The plan was holding up. A long hot shower was next on her list, and she stood there a long time, waiting for the water to run cool, when she remembered that the hotel was unlikely to run out of hot water.

She threw back the covers on her bed, intending to cool down and rest, before dressing and going back out for supper. But when she woke again, it was four-thirty in the morning, and she was hungry, finally. She hadn’t slept so well in a long time.

The coffee shop was busier than Ginny expected at five o’clock. The waitress was cheerful and pretty, and called her Sugar. She called everyone Sugar.

Ginny was halfway through her breakfast when she noticed the man in the next booth, facing toward her. Except he had his head down, praying. When he raised up his head, their eyes met. Since Ginny had been staring at him she felt the need to apologise.

“I’m sorry; didn’t mean to intrude. You look tired. Did you have a bad night?” she asked.

“I’ve been at the hospital.” the man said. “A lady from my church passed away during the night; it was sad, but it wasn’t bad.”

“That’s a sweet way to say it; you must be her pastor,” said Ginny.

“I am. She had a long wonderful life, but she was ready to fly away home.”

“I’m Ginny,” she said, “Please … sit with me. Who counsels the preacher” she asked, “when he’s sad?”

“It is a thorn,” he acknowledged, with a crooked grin, and slid into the seat across from her. “Sometimes the Lord sends me a stranger.”

Ginny smiled, feeling comforted for the first time in weeks. “Why don’t you tell me about her,” she asked.

“Florence Catherine Andersen. Kay. Born in 1914. Her father was an ambassador to some little country. She defied her family’s plans and went to nursing school instead of a teachers’ college. Didn’t marry until she was forty, then married two more times after that. Ninety-two years old, she was. She out-lived her last husband by five or six years.”

“Why did she marry so late?” asked Ginny.

“She was a nurse when the war started, and joined the Army. She was engaged, but her fiance, a B-24 pilot, was killed–lost in the Ploesti raids over Romania. She stayed in the service, marrying a fellow officer and then retired from the Army a few years later when he died.”

He smiled,”Turns out she really liked being married. Her next husband was a rancher, and they were married for twenty years before he passed. Husband number three was a geologist. He was retired from a big oil company, but retirement didn’t suit him. He worked free-lance, and with Kay at his side, they traveled all over the world when other people their age were joining AARP and playing shuffleboard. They went to China, South America, the North Sea, Indonesia. She took a trip to Antarctica last year.”

“An exceptional woman then,” said Ginny.

“Kay wouldn’t have thought so, but she could never understand why folks fence themselves in,” said the Pastor. Ginny was quiet. “Thinking about your own fences?” he asked.

“Oh Pastor, I’m supposed to be helping you.”

“You must have a big day planned, if you’re eating breakfast this early,” he said.

“I’ve never been to Palo Duro Canyon. I have some decisions to make, and I thought some sight-seeing might help.”

“So you’re not from around here then.”

“No, I came up yesterday from the other side of Houston.”

He whistled low. “You drove over seven hundred miles just to think about things? It must be a big decision,” said the pastor softly.

“I flew actually—I have my own plane—it’s a long weekend, and I frequently take cross country trips just to go some place I’ve never been before. Otherwise I’d have no reason to fly.”

“Cross-country and cross-roads then, is that what you’re saying?”

“Pastor, you cut right to the chase don’t you?’

“There’s this man. He says he loves me. Wants to marry me, that’s plain. After knowing me for two weeks, says that we were meant for each other.”

The waitress was making her rounds. “Pastor, how about some more coffee? What about you, Sugar?”

Ginny cradled the hot cup in both hands. “Do you believe that out of all the billions of people in the world, there could be only two who were meant for each other? Florence Catherine loved four men, Pastor, which you have to admit, is more than the usual allotment. And she was a late starter.”

“In 1963 I literally ran into this girl on campus, knocked her down, sent all her books flying. She scraped her palms, knees. Oh boy, was she mad. I picked her up and dusted her off, and heard God say right there in my head, ‘Here she is, boy. Watch your step from now on.’ Not only was I not looking for a wife, this little gal didn’t even fit my well-thought-out guidelines. Not even close. I was looking at sweet-tempered tall blondes, and she was a pocket-sized brunette with a mean temper.”

Ginny smiled. “So how long have you been married?”

“Forty three years.”

“What about her? Were you the man of her dreams?”

“Well she hadn’t counted on someone so clumsy.”

He took a drink of his coffee and studied her.“This fella what says he loves you—what does he do?”

Ginny put her face in her hands. “He’s a pilot in the Air Force. I want a fence–the white picket kind–and a rose-covered cottage, and he’ll be on the move for the next thirty years. I want a husband who’ll come home every night, and he’ll be gone for months at a time.”

“You’re a pretty woman, obviously intelligent. You must have been proposed to before, but you didn’t say yes. Did it send you into a tail-spin then?”

“Tail-spin is right. Because I know what our life will be like. I’ve already lived it.”

“Your Dad was in the military?”

“Still is. A Vice-Admiral now. But he was a pilot first. There’s more. Two of my brothers are pilots, and one’s a SEAL. It’s been my whole life. I wanted a different life as an adult.”

“So you tell him thanks, but no thanks, and move on.”

“Then why do I hurt so much, Pastor?”

“Ginny, why do you think it hurts so much? Why do you think Kay waited for ten years before she got married the first time. I bet she thought she could see into the future too. But we can’t–can we–see into the future.”

“What happens when you fly, Ginny? You plot your course, run out the the numbers. Calculate your distance and fuel, plan your stops. Ever get caught by a storm? Run low on fuel? What do you do then? Try to keep on course, or do you plot a new one?”

He stood, and pulled a business card from his wallet. “Call me. Take a sweater with you down into the canyon. It’s more beautiful than you can imagine, but it can be chilly in the shade.”

“There are geodes in the creek beds,” he said, “if you’re interested in that sort of thing. They look so plain on the outside, and so pretty on the inside. But you have to break them open to see.”

The Mission: Vectors (part 8)

Deborah Hendrick on Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

All Ginny wanted to do when she got home from work was sleep. Instead she pushed herself for a fast lap around the perimeter of the airfield, hoping the exercise would blot out her memories for a little while longer. Last night with Eli had been story-book perfect, but it could never happen again. She’d tried to slow him down, keep it light and fun, while keeping him at arm’s length, but then she’d turned around and danced away the night in his arms. “Not smart, old girl. Not smart at all,” she said to herself. She’d been saying it all day.

By eight o’clock she was ready for bed, wearing her favorite tatty pajamas. She passed on eating, but poured herself a generous Irish cream whiskey to sip on. While Clifford Brown played softly on the stereo, Ginny slowly opened her mail, devoting rapt attention to the eight pages of her phone bill, the renewal for her car insurance, and a compelling invitation to subscribe to Elle Decor.

When she heard banging on the door to the hangar, she was tempted to ignore it, but then the phone rang. It was Eli, waiting outside. He rushed in, happy to see her, and carrying two large gift bags. He dropped them on the floor and in the same motion scooped her into his arms and kissed her thoroughly. It was a triple whammy: tired legs from running so hard, whiskey-relaxed muscles, and now jelly knees. She slid to the sofa.

Before she could say a word, he started pulling presents from the sacks. First, a tiny potted rose (because you have a tiny house he said), a box of very expensive chocolates and a bottle of champagne. “Eli! Oh no–” she started, but he kissed her again. He sat beside her and unloaded the contents of the other gift bag between them. CDs, a lot of them, and a worn, dog-eared book. “This is Doug Ramsey‘s book,” he said, reading her the title, ” Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music & Some of Its Makers.” I’ve had it for a long time, and I know you’ll like it. Lastly, he pulled out a flat, square jewelry box, and tried to give it to her, but Ginny went wild.

“You will NOT bring me Tiffany blue boxes! You take that back, whatever it is.” She stood up so fast that the CDs clattered to the floor, and Eli jumped up to hold her. But Ginny would have none of it. “You take it all back Elijah Madden. Pack it up and go.”

“Ginny? Ginny darling–what’s wrong? Last night was–”

“Forget about last night, Eli. It was a lovely evening, but there can be no more. You take your pretty blue box and the other things.” She was crying and shouting. It was the only way she could get the words past her tears–by shouting.

Now Eli was angry. His insides felt like a meteor had burned through. But there was no way he was leaving. He sat down on the sofa, and waited while Ginny spent her anger on tears. “You want to tell me what’s wrong?” he demanded. “We can get through this.”

“There is no we, Eli. There is only you, and then there’s me. Never a we. I’ve had a wonderful time these past two weeks, but it stops now.”

“Ginny love, what’s wrong? I never dreamed I’d meet someone like you. I know it’s too fast, but that’s the way I live.”

“Yes, I know. Greater than Mach 2. That’s precisely what’s wrong. If you’d been an actuary, or a banker, maybe we’d have a chance.”

“You are talking complete nonsense. We’re meant for each other. There must be a matching marker in our DNA. You understand pilots and flying. You know what it means–”

“Damn straight I know what it means! My whole life, Eli, twenty-seven years … I’ve spent my whole life watching the men I love leave, and then waiting, praying for them to come home again. First my father, then my brothers. Think about Ace, whose very job is predicated on assuming the worst. All four of the men I care about, go out and leave the women behind. I bet you never saw your mother crying, but she did. I never saw mine crying, but I’m not stupid. Times four Eli. I can’t–I won’t do times five. I just don’t have it in me.”

“Ginny, this is who I am: an Air Force pilot. I’ve been preparing–”

“I’m not asking you to change, Elijah, to stop. Of course I understand pilots and flying. You bet I know what it means. It means constant ache, and I can’t–I won’t hurt for the rest of my life.”

“Ginny! I will always come back. I promise.”

“That’s not a promise you can make Eli.”

“I promise I’ll always love you.”

“Well don’t. You need to forget about me. Because I can’t be what you need, no matter what you think. So please take this stuff and go.”

“No Ginny. These are for you. I loved getting them for you. The music, the rose, Ginny. I spent an hour deciding if the coral pink rose was prettier than the dark red. And then I saw this one. The lady in the flower shop called the color ballet-slipper pink, but it’s the same color as your lips. The book–this is my book.” He held it toward her, open on his palm, like a preacher at a revival. “I got it for my birthday when I was fifteen. My notes are in the margins. It introduced me to another world, Ginny, jazz. It’s selfish I know, but I want you to share that world with me. I looked at hundreds of CDs, and I want you to have these. Look Ginny … here’s Lester Young, and Gene Harris, and–”

“Oh Elijah. It won’t work, don’t you understand? Get that rose. Take the champagne and chocolates home to your mother,” she said, packing the presents into the gift bags. “You can take the music back to the store. I’ll read your book, Eli, but I can’t keep it. And take away that box from Tiffany.”

“Don’t send me away like this Ginny. I leave in two days, and I don’t even have a photograph of you. I’m sorry that I’ve done this all wrong, but Ginny love, we have time to sort it out.”

“Like all fighter pilots, Eli–no reason for you to be any different–you have trouble with no. Please go now.”

*****

It was late when Max and Sandy got in. They were surprised to find Eli pounding away at the piano, singing “Hit the road Jack, and don’t ya come back no more, no more, no more, no more … ” with a ripped open box of chocolates beside him on the bench, and a nearly-empty bottle of champagne standing in the ice bucket. “Mom! Dad! Go get some glasses. You can drink a toast with me! Here Mom, try one of these chocolates,” offering her the box, “they’re delish, deliciou–the best you ever tasted.”

“Eli? Son? What’s going on?” asked Max

“I”m drinking to the girl I’m going to marry, Dad.”

“You proposed to Ginny?”

“Oh no. Didn’t plan to–not yet anyway. I took her gifts,” he paused, to toss another chocolate into his mouth, “but she wouldn’t take them; she kicked me out. You’d think she’d like pilots, what with her daddy and two brothers fighter pilots. But she doesn’t want me. Nope, not at all. She invited me to leave.”

“Eli honey? You said you’re going to marry Ginny? But she kicked you out? I don’t understand.”

“That’s right Mom. Target analysis was all wrong. Had to disengage and extend. But this mission is not over.”

The Mission: A Day at the Beach (part 7)

Deborah Hendrick on Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Elijah was waiting on the deck when Ginny returned from her sunrise run. She’d hoped the hard exercise would clear her head, but there stood trouble again: Six feet, three inches, two hundred pounds, black-coffee eyes, and close-cropped curly brown hair. Killer dimple in his left cheek.

“I’ll fix breakfast while you bathe,” Eli said. He cut fresh grapefruit, cooked bacon and eggs, and ground beans for indescribably fragrant coffee–Pluma Tres Oros. As soon as Eli heard the water cut off he called out to her, “I’m sorry, come on! It’s ready now.”

Ginny came to the table with her hair wrapped in a dark blue towel and wearing a voluminous gold wrap with “NAVY” embroidered in huge blue letters across the back. Eli realized it was a boxer’s robe, probably Ace’s. A nice touch of brotherly intimidation, and Ace wasn’t even there.

“We’re always eating–have you noticed that?” asked Eli.

“All I’ve done since you showed up is gain weight. This is delicious, by the way. Not many people know to scramble the eggs so slowly, and this coffee is heavenly. May I have some more? What kind of donuts did you bring?

“I hope you’ll forgive me,” he said. “I didn’t think you’d eat many, so I got what I like best–old fashioned sour cream cake.”

“Ha!” she laughed. “Nice try. I never met a donut that I didn’t like.”

They finished their meal and stacked the dishes in the sink. “I’ll take care of these later,” said Ginny, “but now I have to comb out my hair, or it will be a mess. I usually do it on the deck, if you want to bring the coffee pot. I’ll get dressed and join you in a minute.”

Ginny stood in the hot morning sun and carefully, patiently, combed out her wet hair while Eli watched. He wanted to comb out the curls for her–bury his hands and face in the curls–but he always felt like he was on the heart-pounding edge of the envelope with Ginny, where there was no room for error. It made him extremely cautious.”If you’re going to fish, you need to get started,” she said, “before it gets too hot.”

“I bought some bait on the way in. You’re right; I’d better get started if we’re going to have fish for supper.”

While Eli waded into the warm surf, Ginny waded into the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen. Then she stood on the deck for a long time, and watched Eli, standing thigh-deep in the aqua-white surf, casting over and over again into the deep water. She studied him carefully, storing up the scene like she was going to paint it, storing up the memory of his broad shoulders and strong arms. She could see the muscles flex in his back, while the surf broke around him and sparkled in the morning light.

Her drawings were finished, but she obsessively checked and rechecked them for details and continuity. Then she lined them up in order around the living area, and read out loud again, the story of the girl and her lamb. Ginny was as emotionally invested in the story as the author.

“I stopped at five red snapper, and threw the others back,” said Eli, coming through the door. “Ace told me last time we fished that you didn’t like to keep fish in the freezer, in case the power went off when you weren’t here.”

“That, and fresh fish just taste so good; I’m willing to wait for fresh-caught or do without. And the neighbors bring me fish all the time. But let’s have them for lunch,” Ginny said, giving him a pan to put them in after he cleaned them, “and here’s a cold beer as reward for your efforts.”

Remembering that he’d promised to be quiet, Eli took his beer, and took his time downstairs.

They prepared lunch together. Eli peppered the fillets then grilled them in fresh-squeezed lemon juice and olive oil, while Ginny made a salad and toasted bread. He touched her ever-so-lightly, only when necessary, as they moved about the small kitchen. It was a happy moment for him, a little peek into a life not his. They took their time over the meal, and when Ginny protested that she couldn’t eat another bite, Eli polished off the rest of the fish and bread. Then he ate donuts for dessert.

After the dishes were done, Eli stood in the living room and carefully studied Ginny’s drawings. “I can follow the story up to here,” he said, pointing to the picture of two men sitting side by side on stools in a diner, “but now I’m lost.”

“The man on the right, the farmer, is the little girl’s father,” said Ginny. “The farmer is telling the businessman how he’s afraid his daughter is going to be disappointed at the livestock show, that no one will bid on her lamb because it’s not perfect. The businessman tells the father not to worry, that everything will work out. Now you see the little girl in the show ring with the lamb, and the businessman is bidding on it. In the next one, two other men are bidding too, but he outbids them and buys the lamb.”

“In this drawing,” she said, “they are standing around talking about what the businessman wants to do with the lamb. He proposes an idea that lets the little girl keep the lamb during the winter, but in summer the animal will come in and work at the man’s fenced equipment yard on the edge of town, where he keeps old cars and used oil field equipment. He’ll check on the lamb every day and make sure it has plenty of fresh water and a shelter, and the lamb will eat the grass and weeds so the yard won’t needed to be mowed so often. He’ll be the most important lamb in town, one with a job. So now we see the businessman and the little girl watching the lamb, who is hard at work. Everyone is happy. The End.”

“You’re right; it’s a wonderful story. Let me know, please, when the book is available, because I want one,” said Eli, holding one of the drawings. “Now I think I’ll read the newspaper and take a nap, if that would please you,” he said.

“The deck is too hot now for sleeping in the hammock, but the sofa on the east wall is the family favorite for napping,” said Ginny, fluffing the throw pillows. Eli turned on the table lamp, and made himself comfortable on the sofa, spread out his paper and promptly fell asleep.

While he slept, Ginny trimmed her drawings, and prepared them for shipping. Then she stretched out on the other sofa. She didn’t think she’d sleep, but she did, and when she woke Eli was sitting up, reading the funnies, and laughing. “Ginny,” he said, “let’s go do something fun. Isn’t there a night club where we can go dancing or something?”

“There’s a paddle-wheel boat that has dinner and dance cruises, but I don’t know if we can get on this late in the day without reservations.”

“Why don’t you put on something pretty while I phone. I brought a change of clothes with me; one way or another, we’re going dancing.”

Ginny showered in Chanel No.5 bath gel, and carefully made up her face. Her hair was too thick and curly to coax into a French roll, but she piled it on top of her head in a 21st Century version of a Victorian miss, with little tendrils falling here and there. She had only one after-five dress in the closet, a vintage 1950s Christian Dior. Peacock blue and ballerina length, with layers of chiffon crossed over the breast, and countless yards gathered into an impossibly tiny waist, and a matching stole. She studied the boxes of shoes in her closet. With a regretful shake of her head, she slipped on strappy black sandals that took her height of five feet, nine inches to a stunning six feet. Ginny studied herself in the mirror, and added dangling diamonds to her ears, then sailed through the door.

Elijah had gone downstairs to the outdoor shower to clean up and get dressed. He wore black trousers, and a crisp white on white tropical shirt with embroidered hibiscus. “Ginny Gregg! You are beautiful. I should be wearing a dinner jacket. You should have a corsage. We’ll drink champagne all night. I feel like I’m in a time warp!” He looked at her feet. “Can you really dance in those?” he asked.

“Cheek-to-cheek.”

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