Beneath Winter Sand(9)

By: Vickie McKeehan

Caleb stuck his hands in his pockets as they began to walk in step down the street. “Now see, that kind of statement just intrigues me more. Even if some of us deal with our own set of ghosts from the past it makes me wonder what yours are like.”

“Ghosts in this little place? As in plural? Hmm. That’s surprising since I’ve only heard of the one. But I’ll take your word for it. You sound so ominous though. Might as well explain what you mean.”

“Happy to. Over dinner.”

She smiled again. “There’s always a catch, huh? I like your idyllic little town. It has charm and the natives seem friendly enough. You’ve lived here all your life, I bet.”

“Yep. I was born in the hospital over in San Sebastian, the next town over. I’ve been here ever since, except for the time I went away to college.”

“That sounds so wonderful to grow up along the coast.”

Was it wonderful? Caleb asked himself. Parts of those early years certainly couldn’t be described as easy or perfect. Nothing about them were. Or so he’d been told by his older siblings. Maybe it was the nostalgia of a new year that brought an image of his dad into his head. He forced himself to conjure up Layne Richmond from pictures he’d seen. It frustrated him that he couldn’t bring anything real to mind. Putting old photographs to memory wasn’t the same thing. He’d last laid eyes on his father as a four-year-old. And most everyone agreed that such a young age rarely provided a true recollection of anything. It made him sad to think he couldn’t capture a single real thing about when his dad had been alive. Brief as the wistfulness lingered, it stuck long enough to make him sigh.

“Where’d you go just now?” Hannah asked. “You spaced out for a minute.”

“I guess I did. Sorry. My mind drifted back to a few of those ghosts. There’s no such thing as an idyllic place or life…not anywhere. You’d be setting yourself up for a major letdown to think that way about here. If you’re looking for perfect, that is.”

She tilted her head to see his eyes. “Are you a little sad tonight, Caleb?”

“Maybe I am. New year and all. I’m glad you like our little town. You’ve been here a whole three months, long enough to form some sort of opinion about the natives?”

“My initial reaction was positive since I found work here right away. Plus, I managed to locate a reasonably priced, fully furnished rental. How rare is that? It’s tiny though, but it works for me. You don’t really have to walk me home, you know.”

It didn’t escape Caleb how she’d neatly changed the subject, without saying too much. “Sure I do. It’s a rule around here. You aren’t allowed to let a pretty woman walk home at night by herself.”

Hannah bumped his shoulder. “Such a gentleman. I’m not sure I’ve had the fortune to come across many.”

“Maybe that’s what sets us apart from the big city.”

“I wouldn’t exactly say San Mateo counts as the big city. But I get your point.”

“You grew up in San Mateo. That’s what? A hundred thousand people maybe. That’s a thriving metropolis compared to here.”

She studied him like a scientist might study an alien life form, a certain degree of skepticism on her face. “So…you remembered where I’m from. Are you usually this curious about all newcomers?”

“Not a big deal really. San Mateo isn’t exactly the moon. And there’s not much to talk about in a small town, except maybe the new person.”

She stifled a laugh. “Somehow, it’s hard to picture you hanging over the fence, gossiping with the old ladies about me.”

“You? No way. But I often help those same little old ladies pick out their spring tulips. In exchange for the best growing tips, they always let me in on the juiciest buzz coming out of the rumor mill. You’re a helluva lot more interesting than who’s been coloring their hair purple. Or who bought two cases of booze at Murphy’s Market. Right now, you’ll be glad to know you bumped off Nellie Simpkins from the top spot after she took up smokeless tobacco again. Shame on her.”