“Yes, yes, of course I’ll take care of it. No problem.” This should be a snap, I thought as I took the small box from Matt.
“Tell me again who is to get it and what am I to tell them?” I tried hard to focus on Matt’s words, but was having trouble – too tired from a busy day. Finally I said, “Why don’t you write it down, so I am sure I don’t forget.”
Matt pulled a small notebook out of his pocket and wrote carefully “Chuck Newman, 39 Star Cross Lane, Finleyville, FL 561-588-4824. “Tell Chuck that the pitcher belonged to Aunt Denny. She asked me to see it was delivered. I would feel awful if I let her down. It is kind of fragile so I don’t want to mail it, and since you are flying down there anyway, I thought you wouldn’t mind. You don’t do you?” He tore off the page and stuck it under the rubber band that was securing the lid.
He was so right. It would be no problem to carry such a small box, only about 3 by 4 inches tall. It would give me a reason to skip out on my sister and her family if things got too tense and it would be a chance to find out more about Matt, the man of mystery. Or if things were going smoothly, I could just drop it by on my way to the airport. Finleyville was between Kelly’s house and the airport and my rental would have g.p.s.
I had known Matt for 2 years in the superficial way that you know someone who stops in where you work, a couple of times a week. He was a medium kind of guy – medium height with brown hair and eyes, medium build, pretty much medium all over. His behavior was that of someone who is comfortable in his own skin, always polite, always quiet, nothing flashy, not too friendly. It had taken us 3 months to realize he was a regular and 2 more to quit calling him “that guy who comes in” and find out his name. He didn’t seem secretive, but just usually got others to talk. When I mentioned my upcoming visit to my sister in Florida, lording it over the poor folks who would have to stay here in the snow – 6 inches yesterday – he had asked where in Florida and things had developed from there.
“Relax Matt, it will be a good excuse to get away from the house if the kids get too rambunctious. Sometimes I need to be able to take a break, so don’t stress yourself. I am leaving here on Friday and Chuck will have it before I come back, a week from Sunday. I’m not sure exactly when. We’ll see what works out best for both of us” He nodded, shrugged into his vest and headed off to wherever he goes. I put his box in my coat pocket and thought no more about it. I finished my shift and trudged home glad I didn’t have to drive on the icy streets that night.
The next two days passed in a whirl of preparation. I tossed and turned a lot at night, as I usually do before a vacation. I was looking forward to the break from the slow grind of work and cold. When I got to the airport, the screeners opened the package and looked inside. They stuck the sheet with Chuck’s address inside the box and passed me on through. As I settled into a seat to wait for my flight the box fell on the floor and popped open. I worried that whatever was in the box might have broken. I imagined myself calling the coffee shop and trying to explain to Matt, if he were there. But inside the box wrapped in tissue paper was the neatest little porcelain jug/pitcher kind of thing. It had a gilt edge around the top with a dark gray top and bottom that faded to white around the middle. There was a raised, Chinese dragon in the same soft color as the top and bottom, with blue eyes, some blue streaks and red tint coming from its mouth. I wrapped it back up safely, checked that Chuck’s info was still with it. I put it on top of my carry on bag while I settled down to read my book, the latest Lisa Scottoline, and nodded off.
Sleeping to a Scottoline, I must have been exhausted. I woke with a start to hear my flight being called. I had been dreaming about large blue eyes staring at me. I remembered running away from them, but it faded quickly as I gathered my stuff to board the flight. The ride to Florida was uneventful. I shifted the box from page to page, to keep it out of my way as I read. Everything went smoothly at the airport and I was soon driving towards Kelly’s. The g.p.s. was acting a little weird, but I knew my way from past trips so I turned it off.
Her kids swarmed out of the house to greet me and look for presents. Steven grabbed the box thinking it was for him and pulled the lid off, before I could stop him. “I know that looks like it should be a gift, but really it is just something that I am delivering to someone as a favor for a friend, here is your present.” I said, recovering the box and handing him the computer car-wrecking game he had been asking for. His sister grabbed the pitcher and said “This would look very nice with my tea set.” You could hear the testing in her voice. “But it doesn’t belong to me. Maybe we can take it to my friend’s brother together tomorrow.” I didn’t know if Chuck was Matt’s brother or cousin, or what, but I didn’t want to start out on the wrong foot. “Let’s see what your folks have planned.” I said as I handed her the small bag of things that I had brought for her, figuring that quantity might make up for quality.
We spent the evening in an orgy of ice cream and conversation. It was good to catch up on family and friends. The kids had grown considerably since my last trip and I was glad I had brought them clothing two sizes larger than I thought they needed. It was decided that the weather looked good enough for a trip to the beach on Saturday and Sunday would be a trip to some friends of Kelly’s for a cook out.
Saturday morning I was woken by Chrissy and Steven jumping on my bed. Thank goodness it wasn’t my stomach. My blue eyed dream again, chased from my mind, by their laughter. I rushed to the bathroom for morning ablutions. Pulling on some clothes, as I walked into the kitchen, I asked Kelly how those actresses in the movies managed to wake up with fully made up faces and sweet smelling breath. “I feared I would burn the paint off the walls, mine was so bad this morning.” Kelly and I laughed at Hollywood’s false expectations and a humor filled discussion of the unrealistic things in movies began. One of us trying to outdo the other, with kids and husband joining in.
The beach was warm and I settled in for some much desired heat and rest while the kids dashed off to look for a special shell for me to take home. Soon I was dozing and the blue eyes appeared again. This time they were far away, just watching me. They didn’t seem scary, but I saw that they were part of a giant head that was bobbing up and down. “She will like mine better than yours.” Steven’s voice sounded sure. Before they could fight, I heard Kelly say, “Shh – asleep.” I popped up quickly to see the selected treasures. On the blanket beside me lay their finds. I could see that they had selected them carefully. There was a small piece of opaque blue glass that had been washed smooth by the sea and a very tiny, perfectly shaped, cream colored shell. “Oh these are both beautiful. You know blue is my favorite color and the shell is just exquisite. May I have them both? I have just the right spot for them at home.”
The week passed quickly. At night I was visited by the blue eyes, but I was no longer afraid. They seemed to be waiting for me to do something. The mornings were spent with my sister. We talked about our parents, our relatives, the kids, our jobs. The afternoons and evenings were spent with the whole family. I learned way more about schoolwork than I wanted to know. The change of environment made me feel better than I had when I left the frozen north. I knew I would be rested and ready to go back to work. I tried to call Chuck a couple of times, but had no luck.
Kelly and I planned a shopping trip for Friday that went right passed Finleyville, so I started to really concentrate on contacting Chuck, calling the phone number every couple of hours. Finally about 10:00 p.m. a smokey woman’s voice answered saying “Newman residence.” After explaining my purpose for calling, arrangements were made for us to meet Chuck at a coffee shop called “Fresh Ground” around 10:00 the next day so I could deliver the box. I had filled Kelly in on the errand and my curiosity about Matt, so she knew I was counting on her ability to draw people out.
Late in the morning I picked up the box and we jumped in the rental. We drove up the coast to Finleyville in bright sunshine, laughing and chattering. It was about as different from the cold at home as you could get. “Fresh Ground” was located right beside a store called “Star Gazers” and across from a grocery store. We were about a half hour early so we settled ourselves at a booth and picked out some coffee and muffins to much on while we waited. Wracks at the front of the shop were filled with books about changing your life with meditation, or yoga, or whatever. People came and went exchanging cheery greetings with the owner behind the counter. We checked out each one wondering if it was Chuck.
At 10:00 precisely a tall, tan woman walked in from the back and greeted the owner, who nodded towards us. She walked over and stuck her hand out to Kelly saying, “Chuck Newman.” I choked and Kelly, ever the polished one shook her hand while saying “Hi I’m Kelly and this is Micky.” I stood, reached out and shook her hand. “Won’t you join us?” I said quickly, glad of my sister’s presence, knowing she would cover my surprise smoothly. We had always worked well as a team.
We laughed about the gender expectations of names and talked about the comparative weather here and at home until the owner brought Chuck a coffee. Then I handed her the box. She thanked me and put it in her pocket. Like Kelly, she had moved down here to get away from the snow and cold of the north. She was hoping that Matt would move down here as soon as her business grew just a bit more. She owned the shop next door. Two years ago she had taken it over from a man who sold telescopes, partly for the name and partly to be close to her friend who owned “Fresh Ground.” She had added to it a collection of crystals and ephemera and her business was growing steadily. We talked for about ten minutes learning small bits and pieces about Matt and her, but she too seemed to be able to deflect interest from herself. Then she said she had to get back to her store. She thanked me for taking the trouble to bring the package from Aunt Denny, who was a family friend that had passed away a month ago. Kelly and I left for our shopping trip and then returned home.
Saturday I cooked a special dinner for everyone, teaching Chrissy and Steven how to roll out pie crust and bake a pie in the afternoon an art my sister had never mastered. That evening I packed my things for an early drive to the airport. The kids were fussing about how much they would miss me and I was saying how well behaved they had been. Chrissy said she would always remember this visit and that she had something special to remember it by. The maudlin was turned to teasing to prevent tears. As the playing accelerated into chasing, I followed Chrissy into her room. I stopped, stunned by what I saw. “Chrissy! How could you?” Sitting peacefully in the middle of her tea set, was the china pitcher with the blue eyed dragon. What could I do now?