The crowds were thick on River Street. Sara and James walked together over the uneven cobblestones after their dinner avoiding limousines, couples with strollers and teenagers in tuxes and evening gowns. Whenever Sara seemed to wobble just a bit, James would reach out a steadying hand on her elbow. Once, she almost fell into him, catching herself at the last minute. She was used to him, yet at the same time everything about being with him was new. A touch on her arm or her back, set all her senses on alert. She liked this feeling…and she didn’t like it.
They had crossed the street and were now right against the water. The September sunset sky was yellow gold. The air was breezy and cool, without a drop of the humidity that normally made walking down here less than comfortable for any length of time. The two of them moved along without talking for a while, James taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling crowds and Sara enjoying the slow-moving river.
As they came to the end of River Walk, James noticed the statue that many stopped to admire.
“The Waving Girl,” James read the metal placard in front of him. “She looks sad.”
“Doesn’t she?” Sara replied. “I’ve always thought there must be something sad to her story. A woman who comes to greet ships day and night must be waiting for something.” Sara looked up at the statue and noticed, as she had many times, the long arms reaching out in greeting with a handkerchief. The faithful dog at her side.
“Or someone,” James added.
“Oh, yes, well, it had to be someone didn’t it? A lover who was supposed to return by ship.”
“Or a pen pal she never met,” James said with a smile.
“A what? A pen pal?”
“Well, why not? Why does it always have to be a lover?”
“It’s certainly more romantic that way.”
“Maybe she just really liked boats. Did you ever think of that?”
Sara reached over and punched James on the arm. “That’s for ruining The Waving Girl for me. Thank you.”
“Well, you’re welcome. Do you want to sit down for a minute?” James gestured towards a bench near the statue.
“Sure.” Sara walked over and sat, looking out at the river.
As James joined her, an enormous container barge began its way past the shops and crowds. Each container would fit snuggly on the back of an 18-wheeler and were piled seven and eight high on the slow moving ship.
“Wow,” James said, as the ship passed in front of them.
“I know. Isn’t it remarkable how small we are compared to that ship?” Sara turned to James. “Did you ever see ‘The Perfect Storm’? That movie with George Clooney?”
“Yeah, loved it,” James replied.
“Do you remember the part where the container ship is lost in the storm and almost capsizes, losing a bunch of its containers into the sea?”
“I think I do, why?”
“Well, I look at these enormous ships as they float past River Street and I think how small I am. Then I think of that movie and how the ocean tossed that ship around like it was a baby toy in a bathtub. Then I know how small I am.” Sara looked again at the ship now past them going under the Talmadge Bridge, getting smaller with each second. “And it scares me. I wonder how I’ll ever make it in this world.”
James was watching Sara closely. The small moments of the last couple of weeks had brought the two of them closer, but there were things James didn’t know about her, things he wished he knew. Maybe this was a moment that she might let go, just a little.
“Can I ask you something?”
“What happened to William? What happened in the accident?”
Sara closed her eyes for a moment and thought again about that day. The phone call, the trip to the hospital, the arrangements. There had been very little time to think about how it happened. How William came to be on that stretch of road on that day.
“He was driving out on Wilmington Island. I don’t know why he was there. Perhaps he just went for a drive. It was a nice day. A little hot. He should have been at work. It was the middle of the afternoon.” She could see him in her head. His tan face leaned back in his seat, a smile on his face, Bob Dylan on the radio. Just enjoying the day under the oak trees. Driving just to drive, to decompress, just for a few minutes. “The police couldn’t tell me a whole lot. It was a single car accident. There was a dead deer. And a cigarette in the floorboards. He didn’t smoke. At least that’s what he told me.”
Sara looked over at James. “He was lighting a cigarette. He looked down to light a cigarette, looked up and there was a deer. Slammed on brakes, lost control and hit a tree. He didn’t have a seatbelt on. Got thrown from the car. The EMTs did all they could.” Silent tears were now running down Sara’s checks.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you cry. I shouldn’t have asked.” James felt awful now. They had been having such a great time.
“Please don’t be. I’ve been more honest with you about my life than I have with anyone in a long time. Why William had to keep secrets from me and why I had to keep secrets from him is beyond me. Eve and I do that. Keep secrets. Are we afraid that if people know us that they won’t love us? I love my sister, and there’s really nothing that she can do to stop me from loving her. Why not let me know who she is? What’s the point of even being related?”
James was speechless listening to her. He had always thought the same thing. Had always found the lies and secrets that surrounded the people in his life to be stifling. He, too, wanted to be real and honest with someone, but had never met anyone before Sara that he thought he could be that way with. Perhaps the reason that they were able to be this way with each other was because of the way they met, but so what? Everyone had to meet sometime. And this was how it happened to them.
Sara wiped at her cheeks. “Just like at the funeral home, I’m spilling my guts to you and I don’t know why.” She looked at her hands…because she couldn’t look at him. “But it feels great.”
“Well, come on. Let’s go gorge ourselves on chocolate. The mosquitos are eating me up.” James stood and held his hand out to Sara. She took it and stood up, letting go of his hand but wishing for a moment that she didn’t have to. She stuck her hands in her pockets and looked towards the river again.
“James!” a voice from behind them seemed to be getting closer. “James!”
They both turned around and Sara saw a pretty blond girl running up to them. Running, because she was obviously out for a jog. Her short hair was pushed back with a headband and even though it appeared she had been running for a while as her shirt was wet around the neck and armpits, she didn’t seem all that winded. She stopped when she got close to them.
“James. I thought that was you.” She was smiling up at him and didn’t seem to notice Sara at all.
“Hey, Abby. Great night for a run. You do this often?”
“Oh, yeah. Every day if I can. What are you up to?” The girl still hadn’t noticed Sara, so she just stood and watched both of them, trying to figure out why she was suddenly uneasy.
“Sara and I had just—” James turned as if just realizing his mistake. “I’m so sorry. You guys don’t know each other. Sara this is Abby Anderson. Abby, this is Sara Carraway, my roommate.” Then to Sara, “Abby and I work together.”
Abby smiled at James. “He’s being nice. He’s my boss. He’s taught me a lot considering he’s only been in our department a few weeks. I work with IT at SCAD.”
“Yeah, I gathered that,” Sara said, perhaps only a little sarcastically.
Abby went on. “It’s so great to see you! What are you guys up to?”
“Just enjoying River Street. This is the first time I’ve really been down here since I moved. We were heading over to the candy store for some chocolate. Want to come?”
Abby’s face lit up. “I’d love to, but I need to finish my run. I’m training for a marathon in the spring.” Her eyes widened. “Hey, you should train with me. It’s so great.”
“Thanks. I’ll, uh - think about it.”
“Well, I’ll see you at work! Bye!” She started off, then turned around. “And nice to meet you, Sara!” She ran off in the direction of the bridge, waving as she went.
Sara turned to James. “A marathon could be fun.”
“Never gonna happen. I hate running. Hate it. All that sweating. Why do you think I’m in IT? I just got lucky that my dad’s side of the family is all tall and thin.”
Sara laughed. “Yea, lucky you. There are a lot of people who would kill to have the same problem.”
“What about you? Marathon training?”
“Maybe after the baby’s born.” Sara paused. “Totally kidding. Never gonna happen.”
“Speaking of getting in shape, how about that chocolate?”
And they both turned toward the candy shop, quite content.