Digital and Print Copyright R. E. Bradshaw 2010
On the drive across the state of North Carolina, from Durham to Currituck County, the view was dominated by farmland and forests. The winding four lanes gave way to two and back to four, passing little towns, most of which were dying because the main road by-passed them years ago. As the hours passed, on the drive, layers of the modern world began to slip away. Turning off US highway 64, onto US 17 North, time began to stand still. The roadway took the driver through counties with names like Bertie, Chowan and Pasquotank, that traced their roots to a time when the land still belonged to the English Crown. Hertford County had the oldest brick home in North Carolina, the Newbold-White house, within its borders. The town of Edenton stood as a living history monument, and boasted of having the most intact colonial courthouse in America and houses dating from the early 1700’s.
Passing through Pasquotank County and into the homestretch of the three and a half hour journey, the drive turned onto US 158, for the last twenty-two miles of the trip. Snaking through swamps and forests, the road opened on a view of the Currituck Sound, separating the Outer Banks’ barrier islands and the mainland. Bearing to the right, onto Caratoke Highway, the sound became lost behind green trees and houses, lining the banks of the water. The road turned away from the shore line, making a long lazy curve around the high school, which was now the middle school. The highway would sway through several more languid curves, dividing the long, thin county in half, like a long, gray, striped ribbon, all the way to Point Harbor, where the land met the water.
The Carolina blue sky overhead with only wisps of clouds, offered no barrier to the June morning sun. A black BMW convertible, top down, with Gucci luggage and what looked like an antique, cast iron, floor lamp sticking out of the backseat, approached the elevated bridge crossing the Intracoastal Waterway, at mile marker fifty, in the heart of the little village of Coinjock, North Carolina. The driver, Jamie Basnight, a forty-two-year-old lawyer, who looked much younger, was coming home, again. Jamie’s body was hard with an athletic build that took a lot of work to maintain. Jamie Basnight was an attractive, hot shot lawyer, with the looks to match. Her shoulder length blonde hair was flapping in the wind, under a Duke ball cap, her baby blue eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses. She glanced down, from the apex of the bridge, at the tall sailboats cruising down the waterway. She really didn’t see them. Jamie hadn’t noticed any of the scenery she passed earlier this morning. Her mind had been busy replaying her every mistake and continued to take her back to three months ago, when it had all come crashing down around her.
Each time the replay would begin, the panic of that night crushed her chest again and her breathing became shallow. Jamie had pulled up in front of the luxurious home, she shared with Mary Ann, her lover of sixteen years, barely able to breathe and thankful Mary Ann’s car was in the garage. She ran into the house, calling Mary Ann’s name, but got no answer. Jamie found her out back, by the pool. Mary Ann’s dark hair hung in curls over her shoulders. Her striking beauty always took Jamie’s breath, but tonight she couldn’t breathe for different reasons.
Mary Ann was dressed in an elegant white suit, sipping the remains of what looked like straight bourbon. Her back was to Jamie, but when Mary Ann heard Jamie come through the French doors she had slowly turned around. Her tear streaked face was red and blotchy, her beauty somehow making her look more tragic, but she wasn’t crying anymore. Mary Ann was livid and turned away quickly, taking another drink. The dark curls swung around so violently, the ringlets bounced before settling against the expensive fabric of her suit.
Mary Ann leaned forward, elbows on her knees gripping the tumbler with both hands, as if, she were trying to keep from throwing it, or dropping it, Jamie wasn’t exactly sure what was going to happen next. Mary Ann sat on a bench, built into the deck, that over looked the pool and the perfectly landscaped lawn, with its perfectly placed flower beds. Jamie never went near any gardening tools. She was too busy, fucking up her life, as it were.
Jamie, frozen a few feet behind the woman she slept with for the past sixteen years, was afraid to move or say anything. What could she say? She’d been caught.
The uncertain silence that fell over them was broken by Mary Ann, who said, in her silky manicured drawl, “I hope it was worth it.”
“Mary Ann, please. You have to listen to me.” Jamie pleaded. Her drawl wasn’t as perceptible as Mary Ann’s was. Years of polish and practice, in front of juries and colleagues, had taught her only to let the drawl out, when some man, or woman for that matter, mistook her southern charm, for ignorance.
Jamie’s plea fell on deaf ears. Mary Ann didn’t raise her voice, in fact quite the opposite. She became very still, her entire demeanor darkened. With her clenched jaw muscles, the only signs of her real emotional state, she said, calmly and evenly, “I have no intention of sitting here, listening to you try to reason or lie your way out of this one.”
Jamie bowed her head. Her voice weak, when she said the only thing she could think of, “I’m sorry.”
The stillness had been the calm before the storm. Mary Ann sprang up and whirled on Jamie, in a flash of anger. “Sorry? What are you sorry for, Jamie? Sorry you did it, or sorry you got caught?”
Jamie was so ashamed. She continued looking at the wooden deck. “I never wanted this to happen,” she offered, trying for any redemption.
Mary Ann spit back, “And yet it did. Now you’re going to have to live with consequences.”
Jamie at last looked up from the deck. She pleaded again, “Please, Mary Ann, let me explain.”
Mary Ann was having none of it. Mary Ann was beyond livid. Her voice grew higher and thinner, as the emotion seized her throat. She said, “Not this time counselor, you can’t explain this away.”
Jamie reached out to Mary Ann. She wanted to hold her and explain that this was some anomalous behavior, so out of the realm of possibility that it could never happen again, but that had turned out not to be a smart move.
Mary Ann slapped Jamie’s hand away. In a voice full of rage, she said, “Don’t, you dare! Don’t you dare, touch me.”
Jamie, shocked by the venom in Mary Ann’s voice, backed away from her. Jamie looked at the woman she loved and knew she had made a fatal mistake. “So that’s it, we’re done, just like that?”
Mary Ann did not hesitate, when she replied, “Oh yes, we’re done.”
Jamie’s heart sank with those words. She couldn’t believe this was happening. “After sixteen years, I fuck up once and we’re done?”
“Fuck up, what an ironic choice of words, and I’m sure it was more than once,” Mary Ann said, sarcastically and then she asked, “How long has this been going on?”
Jamie dropped her head again, the shame and guilt were eating her alive. She whispered, “Four months.”
Mary Ann sat down, burying her face in her hands. “That long. Fuck, I am such an idiot.”
Jamie knelt down in front of Mary Ann. Her own tears flowing down her cheeks, she said, “It’s over. I swear.”
Mary Ann took her hands away from her face and locked her big dark eyes on Jamie’s. She had been betrayed and it was written on her expression and dripping from her words, when she said, “And I’m just supposed to forgive you, is that it?”
Jamie bargained for her life, “How can I fix this? Just tell me, please.”
Mary Ann said, softly through quiet tears, “You can’t fix this. You’ve ruined everything.” She paused and then stood up. She looked down at the still kneeling Jamie with pure indignation and said the last thing Jamie wanted to hear, “I will never forgive you.” The scene ended the same way each time, with Mary Ann walking away from Jamie and their lives together.
In the car, Jamie put on the turn signal, turning onto old 158. She eased around the big curve where the highway turned into Waterlily Road. On the right, past a few corn fields, several miles of swamp expanded and gave way to the wetlands of Currituck Sound. On her left, little white houses, beaten down by weather and time, lined the waterway.
A half a mile down the old narrow road, Jamie pulled into a driveway, on the left, marked by a For Sale sign. Hung diagonally, over the sign, was the word SOLD, in big bold letters. The small red house faced the waterway. The end of the dock, owned by the marina next door, ran in front of the house. Boats and yachts of all sizes were tied up, along the long dock. On the left, the marina restaurant filled the air with the aroma of frying seafood. Trees and thick undergrowth blocked the view of the house on the right. There were no houses across the road, because that was the edge of the swamp. The gravel driveway ended in front of a little barn, set off from the house. The barn was painted red to match the house and joined the white picket fence that lined the walkway, to the backdoor. Jamie stopped the BMW and exited, stretching her five foot seven frame to its limits.
She looked around the property and smiled weakly. This was her new home. Jamie walked to the end of the driveway and pulled the For Sale sign out of the ground. She heard the truck coming toward her, and looked up to see the giant blue moving van slowing, as it approached. Jamie waved at the driver and the big truck miraculously was backed down her driveway. Let the unpacking begin, Jamie thought. She made her way to the backdoor of the house, to begin the process of restarting a life, she had single handedly dismantled. As she turned the key in the lock, she heard a little voice in her head say, “I might survive this, if the guilt and loneliness don’t kill me first.”