Beneath Winter Sand(10)

By: Vickie McKeehan

“Yuck. Smokeless tobacco. Not exactly me.”

“I thought not. No, for you the rumor mill’s been on overdrive about what brought you south. The smart money says you went through a disastrous breakup and you’re looking for a fresh start. I’m not buying that one.”

“Why not? That sounds downright fascinating, almost Hollywood-like.”

“Because you have a determined look on your face that says, ‘I’m on a mission.’ I’d recognize that resolute attitude anywhere.”

“You’re mistaking that for tired feet.” An awkward silence descended while she chewed her lip and wondered how he so easily saw through her hard-fought demeanor.

Sensing that he’d hit on a touchy subject, he backed off and went another way. “As a newcomer, I doubt you know the full backstory about Tandy Gilliam’s love of fireworks. Some years back, that boy was banned from doing his celebratory display on shore after he burned down Ruthie May Porter’s tool shed.”

This time Hannah cracked up. Her laugh came from the gut and roared its way out like a freight train. “You made that up.”

“No, ma’am. Tandy is Ruthie May’s next door neighbor, has been for years. Brent banned him from lighting so much as a firecracker on land. He figured out the only way Tandy could be trusted with fireworks is to have as much water around him as possible. So, the chief of police relegated Tandy to his boat. Now, every Fourth of July, every New Year’s Eve, every Christmas morning, Tandy stocks his little sloop with enough Roman candles to last about an hour and sets off his own fireworks celebration in the middle of Smuggler’s Bay. Brent figures that if Tandy catches anything on fire out there, it won’t last long.”

“Ah. No need for the fire station to go on alert and the town gets a cheap fireworks display out of the deal.”

“That’s true. There’s the official one put on by the city every Fourth of July. But since Tandy figures you can’t have too many fireworks, he waits until after the town’s celebration is over and done with, and then lights up the night sky with his own creations immediately afterward. People stand along the pier and wait to see what he’s come up with that’s new, see if he can outdo what he did the year before.”

“And to think you’re walking me home and missing Tandy’s spectacular display.”

“We could watch the finale from your front porch. He usually doesn’t wrap it all up until around one-thirty.”

“Sure. Why not? I guess I won’t be getting any sleep until he gets to the big finish anyway. You love living here, don’t you?”

“I guess I do.”

“And you like your job well enough?”

“I love my job.”

“I can tell whenever I see you at the nursery hovering over a sick geranium.”

His eyes twinkled with amusement. “My geraniums are never sick, a result of loving my work so much. Did you ever get that old car of yours running?”

“Old car? I take exception to that. Surely you mean my classic sought-after 1970 Chevy Suburban with the distinctive grill and the double headlights. In case you haven’t noticed, that make and model is a rare find, just ask any vintage car dealer.”

She let out a low sigh. “Okay maybe it is a tad old, but Wally’s still working on getting me a great deal on a new engine. First, he had a tough time locating one until he found a guy in the Bay Area who collects classic Chevys and the parts to keep them running. I guess making the drive down here was more than the poor old girl could handle. The engine had almost two hundred thousand miles on it. I feel bad about pushing her like that. The motor gave out practically at the city limits sign. I hadn’t been in town two minutes before it stalled out. I feel guilty that the poor thing gave me her last mile.”

“How are you getting back and forth to work?”

“Wally loaned me a Chevy he fixed up until he gets mine running. Another example of how friendly the folks are here.”

“Ever thought about getting a new one? We have a used car lot now.”

“Run by Brad Radcliff. Yeah, I know. He came by to see me, left his business card. But I’m not in the market for a new car. My Suburban will be just fine once Wally gets done with it. Those cars are hard to come by, even harder to replace. I can wait. I’ve learned over the years to be a very patient person.” She didn’t mention the vehicle’s sentimental value or how hard she’d fought to locate it.