A Charleston Tale – Chapter Two

Chapter Two- Another Again

Sky sat on a bench just off the walkway at Waterfront Park. At her feet laid her two Cane Corsos, Bella and Rocco. Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight was splayed across her lap when she saw a shadow fall over her. She looked up into the face of Brent Windsor.

“Lord have mercy, I can’t get away with not seeing you for two weeks, huh?” Sky said.

“Maybe Charleston isn’t big enough for both of us,” he replied.

“You should go back to D.C then!” Sky said.

He laughed at that and looked at the dogs who now sat alert flanking her. “How do you know where I’m from? You been asking about me?” Brent asked.

“Not! I’d know a D.C accent anywhere. I went to Howard for four years then after I graduated from Wharton I worked in Maryland. I still have plenty of friends in the area,” Sky said. She snapped her fingers and the dogs relaxed.

Brent looked around the park at the other joggers and the kids playing in the pineapple fountain. “This is a nice park, and for a Saturday it’s not too packed. Is it always like this?” he asked.

“Pretty much. There are so many places in the city to go and sit out. These two don’t like the dog park when it’s crowded so we usually walk down here. There’s a nice park across the street from our house too,” Sky said.

“Look, I just wanted to stop by to apologize for upsetting you the other week. I wasn’t trying to piss you off. I was just doing my job,” Brent said. He hadn’t meant to piss anyone off although it was often a repercussion of his work.

She accepted his apology and they passed the time talking until a little boy ran up to them and skidded to a halt upon seeing Rocco and Bella who immediately thought he came to play with them. Dark brindled and the larger of the two Rocco picked up his pull rope and threw it at the boy’s feet. He looked at Brent, who in turn looked at Sky.

“He wants to play. Both of them think that every kid in the universe has been put here to play with them,” Sky said.

The boy crept closer to Brent. She looked from Brent to the boy and could see the affection between the two in the easy way that the boy huddled close to Brent’s leg.

“Sky, this is my son Gray,” he said as the boy held out his hand to shake hers.

“Hi Gray, It’s nice to meet you. Do you like living in Charleston? Brent, did you find a good school and apartment?”

“No,” this came from Gray who sat on the bench looking sullen. “We live in a dump. It’s not like our old house.”

“He misses having a yard and our landlady Ms. Delphine loved him. She was like a grandma to him,” Brent said.

“Oh really, did you sign a lease where you are now?” she asked. When Brent shook his head no, she nodded and asked if they had plans for the day. When they said they’d just planned to come down and enjoy the park she asked if they’d like to take a walk.

“I drove here. What about my car?” Brent asked.

“I don’t think that you want to try to get these two into your vehicle and we walked here. I think you’ll both really like what I have to show you though,” she said.

“Pop, they can fit in the back of the Tahoe,” Gray said.

As they walked down the park’s walkway and a block over to where Brent had parked his car Sky asked Gray about what he’d seen of the city so far.

“Have you had a chance to go out to St. John’s Island, yet?” Sky asked.

“Not yet, I came down interviewed for the position then looked at schools and an apartment. We haven’t done many tourist type things,” Brent replied.

“Pop has to work and he has training too,” Gray added now more comfortable with the dogs who kept grinning goofily at him as they walked alongside him.

“This is it,” he said stopping beside a navy colored Tahoe. He disengaged the alarm and opened the trunk so that Sky could put the dogs in the cargo area, then he walked around to the passenger door and opened it for her. A second later they were all in the vehicle pulling into the late afternoon traffic.

“I’ll give you directions. It’s fairly close it shouldn’t take us more than five minutes to get there,” Sky said. As they rode through the streets, she pointed out another park and the mansions on the other side of East Bay Street.  A few minutes later she told him to make a turn and they coasted down a residential street filled with stately old Colonial- era homes. They found a parking spot and all hopped out. They began walking past the palmetto trees and gaslights that bordered the yards.

She led them to a high wrought iron fence, pushed open the gate and walked up the stairs to a door on the side of the huge house. She keyed in an alarm and turned the knob letting them all into a spacious apartment that spanned the entire bottom floor of the house. Through the Roman shades at the front window late afternoon sun shone on the hardwood floor and the French vanilla -colored walls. Sky grinned and encouraged them to look around as she pulled out her cell phone and made a quick call. A few moments later– after Gray discovered the large closet that could double as a playroom and Brent walked through the bedrooms– the door opened and a hearty voice calling out “Hey” filled the empty space.

“Hey, Mrs. Georgia,” Sky said before allowing herself to be enveloped in a White Diamonds infused hug.

“Well, well, well. What do we have here?” Georgia May Edwards asked as she set a plate of chocolate chip cookies down on the counter.

Sky made the introductions and told Brent that Mrs. Georgia had been looking for good reliable tenants since the last family moved out eight months ago. She left them in the living room to discuss things and went to find Gray.

“Do you like it?” she asked him after finding him seated on the floor in one of the smaller bedrooms.

A short while later Brent, Sky, and Gray were all on the porch. Gray left them as he moved to explore the porch and yard.

“Why would you do this? You don’t even know us,” Brent asked. He was a bit shocked that a new apartment stemmed from his son’s complaint.

“I did it for Gray. Every child deserves a yard, Brent. He’s already been uprooted from everything he knows. He’s in a strange place without the lady he thought of as a grandma. And Mrs. Georgia needs a family to mother,” she replied.

“I’m not used to people I don’t know doing nice things for us,” he said.

“Well, around here we look out for other people. Even probation officers,” she said. She smiled as they watched Gray, who sat in the Adirondack chair at the other end of the porch, looking happily at the yard. In the short time since they’d arrived at the apartment he looked twice as happy.

“So what are you doing with him this summer? What’s he doing while you work?” Sky asked.

“He’s going to a day camp in North Charleston; it’s easy to drop him off there before I go to work,” he said. “I pick him up if I’m working late and he hangs out at the office until I’m done. Sometimes, I pick him up early when I’m done with court.”

He mistook her silence for censure and looked around, to see her watching his son, who was busy exploring the yard. He said, “Once he starts school, it will be better.”

Her head whipped towards him, “I wasn’t judging you Brent. It’s hard being a single parent, I was raised by one and he took help from family and friends to make it work for him,” she said.

“My best friend, Shawn, we’ve known each other our whole lives,” Brent said. “He only really asked me for one thing in all those years of friendship. That was to take care of his son, to raise him right.”

“What happened?” Sky asked.

“Cancer. Gray’s mom was never in the picture anyway. So I was the logical choice. I couldn’t raise him in D.C. though. It wasn’t going to work and Shawn always wanted to move down south,” he said.

Brent called Gray and told him they were leaving. As they prepared to get in the car Gray spoke. “Do you want to have dinner with us?” he asked. Brent began to admonish him but Sky laughed.

“Actually, I have plans tonight but I’d like to invite you two to come with me,” she said.

“We don’t want to intrude. He shouldn’t have imposed on you anyway after all that you’ve done for us today,” Brent said.

“Don’t be silly, I had a great time with Gray today. Even with you too, a little bit,” she said. She emphasized little by putting up her thumb and forefinger an inch apart before bursting out in laughter. “I really want you two to come with me. I promise you’ll enjoy it.”
***  *** ***

Brent thought that they would head to Thomas’ but she directed him back near Waterfront Park and told him to park on a side street near a brick wall with a foot high privacy hedge. Once they collected the dogs from the back they walked through the gate and into an immaculately manicured yard. Brent heard music playing and smelled meat being grilled. As they walked across the grass Sky leaned down to let the dogs off their leashes.

“Where are we?” Gray asked.

“My dad’s house, he’s out of town, but there’s someone that I really want you to meet,” Sky said. She pushed open a waist high gate and the dogs burst through, ran straight for the pool and dove in.

Sky and Gray burst into laughter and watched the dogs swim laps in the pool.

“Hey Baby,” her uncle Thomas said from his position at the grill. “Mr. Windsor, nice to see you again,” he said. Thomas smiled at the three of them and motioned for them to get drinks from the cooler. They grabbed drinks and walked over to a table under a large magnolia tree. A flash of movement went past the grill and headed towards them.

“Ooops, sorry Uncle T. Hey Mom, you’re here. Can I spend the night at Jonah’s?” To Brent’s surprise the boy was talking to Sky, she never mentioned being a parent. He turned towards her as the boy hugged her around the waist.

“Stephan, excuse you! Don’t you see other people sitting here?” Sky asked. Even while she admonished him, she gently brushed the wet bronze curls of his hair then turned him towards Brent. “Honey, this is Mr. Windsor and that’s his son Gray.”

“I’m sorry, hi Mr. Windsor. Hi Gray. Mom, can I spend the night with Jonah?” Stephan asked again.

“No, you may not. You’re coming home tonight,” she said.

“Yes ma’am,” Stephan said and went to the pool to talk to the dogs. A few minutes later he returned and asked if Gray wanted to go for a swim. Gray looked at his father then said yes.

“You never mentioned that you’re a mother,” Brent said while they sat at a table near the pool.

“I know, but in all fairness, it’s not like it’s something that I go around saying,” Sky replied. She looked at the edge of the pool where their two sons sat eating hamburgers, flanked by Bella and Rocco.

“You could have said something earlier, when we were talking about single parents,” he said.

“You’re right,” she said as the boys ran across the yard to join them.

Excerpt- A Charleston Tale

Chapter One- The Meeting                

 

Brenton Windsor exited his state car and stepped right into the heat and humidity of Charleston, South Carolina. He’d moved here two months ago; knowing that it would be a lot less stressful than Washington D.C. He hadn’t considered that it would also bit of a culture shock he thought. As he walked towards the popular Broad Street eatery Thomas’ Chicken & Chips he thought of how odd it was to see a restaurant next to a small park, and across the street from The Diocese of Charleston. He stopped in front of the green three story building with a wooden plaque hanging from it that carried the name of the restaurant and the year established.  Although it was just after two the place was packed. There didn’t appear to be any free tables. As his eyes adjusted to the low lighting inside, he allowed his gaze to roam over the eatery’s interior.  He stood at the entryway beside the sign that asked customers to “wait for a server.”

Brent waited as a hostess wound her way through the tables, her hips beat in time as her heels clicked on the hardwood floor. She wore a teal off the shoulder draped tee, khaki wide legged linen slacks and a smile. Her caramel skin was emphasized by the matching tips of her short spiky haircut. And he noticed her toes peeking out of the tips of her printed pumps.

“One?” she asked. When he nodded, she crooked a finger and led him to the bar. “You can sit here ‘til a table opens up. As you can see we’re a little busy right now. Can I get you something to drink?” she said as she walked around the bar and looked for a menu to give him.

“What do you recommend?” he asked. He skimmed the menu and was shocked to discover that in spite of the name of the restaurant, Chicken & Chips, he hadn’t expected everything to be chicken.

“The lemonade is great but so is the sweet tea. Or you can get an Arnold Palmer, that’s half tea half lemonade,” she said.

“I think I’ll try the lemonade.” Brent decided.

“Today’s specials are the chicken salad club, the hotter than hell chicken tender combo, and the chicken barbecue platter; but T did his famous barbecued chicken today too so I’d recommend you get one of each.” she said with a laugh.

Brent laughed too as he tried to decide on what to order.

“Not from ‘round here huh? Where’d you find out about us, the African American visitors center?” she asked with a laugh as she placed a glass of lemonade in front of him.

“No, I’m new to Charleston,” he said while perusing the board that hung over the bar.

She wiped her hands on a towel and smiled before saying, “I’m sorry. I tend to get a kick out of first time patrons. You know this place only serves chicken dishes right? So the chips are hand cut fries, we have plain and sweet potato and you can select whole wavy cut, crinkle cut, or waffle. ”

“Ok, so give me a serious recommendation. I definitely can’t take anything hotter than hell today. It’s already hot outside. I don’t know how people stand it.”

She laughed again before saying, “You kinda get used to it after ‘while. I’d go for the chicken barbecue platter which includes your choice of two sides, a small order of fries and dessert. Chicken barbecue is grilled chopped chicken cooked with spices and hot sauce. All of the specials are good but that’ll be the perfect first taste of Thomas’,” Sky said. She smiled at him then tapped the bar and said, “A small booth just opened up. I’ll take you back and give you some time to think about it.”

He followed her and by the time he was seated he’d decided to go with her recommendation. Afterwards she introduced herself as Sky and told him to let her know if he needed anything.

He spread out the newspapers and apartment guides and leafed through them until a waitress brought his order to the table and refilled his glass of lemonade. “These are your ruffle cut chips, your peach cobbler, macaroni and cheese, fried green tomatoes, and this is your chicken barbecue sandwich fully loaded. That’s with coleslaw, a pickle and sauce. Extra sauce is right here and I brought you some extra napkins.”

His first bite of the sandwich made his eyes close. When he opened them Sky was there wearing a knowing smile. Each thing he tasted was so good he could imagine gaining at least a hundred pounds in the next three months.

“Delicious, right? T is magic with all things chicken. I bet now you wished you listened and ordered one of everything, right?”

Brent nodded and she laughed.

“So what brings you to Charleston?” Sky asked. She walked to the table and filled his glass.

“I moved for a new job plus it’s a great city,” Brent said. He stared at her hands quickly assuring himself that there were no rings on her fingers.

“I know. I’m Charleston born and bred. It’s a beautiful place,” Sky said. Her tone was full of pride as she spoke of her birthplace. Although she’d spent eight years away from the city, she loved being home.

“I’m Brent,” he said wondering whether he’d said it before.

“So Brent what brings you to Thomas’?” she asked, “Did someone recommend us?”

“Actually I’m here to check on one of my offenders, I can’t believe the owner hired him but since I have to verify that he’s actually employed here I thought that I’d enjoy a meal,” he said. “This place has been recommended to me by a few people.”

“You’re a parole and probation officer? Let me guess, Bobby Giles, right?” Sky was already shaking her head wondering how such a pretty face could be such an idiot.

“Yeah, how’d you know?” he asked.

“I can confirm for you that this is where he’s employed,” she said. Her voice took on a chilly tone and she narrowed her eyes while staring at him.

Shocked, Brent reached out and touched her wrist to keep her at the table. “I understand that you feel some sense of loyalty to Mr. Giles but do you really think you’re safe with him working here?” he asked. “After all, you must know that he’s a convicted murderer.”

“You have no idea what loyalty is about,” she said.

You don’t even know me, so how can you presume…” he began before she interrupted.

“I know that you think we shouldn’t have hired Bobby. You don’t know anything about him except what he was convicted of yet here you are standing in judgment of him,” Sky said.

“My days are filled with men pleading their innocence or talking about how the system railroaded them. If I took the time to listen to every one of their stories I’d never get out of the office,” Brent replied.

“I never said that Bobby was innocent. He did take someone’s life but you don’t know anything beyond that. You haven’t taken the time to learn that he was railroaded because the prosecutor refused to offer him a deal and the judge didn’t ensure that the jury was charged correctly, and that it took eight years for another attorney to even touch his case,” Sky said. “Word to the wise Mr. Windsor, you’re not gonna make any friends in here talking bad about Bobby Giles.” She walked away without a backward glance and entered the swinging doors to the back of the restaurant. A few minutes later a small walnut colored man exited through the doorway and made his way around the restaurant stopping by tables and speaking. Brent watched his progress until he arrived at his table and spoke.

“You the one out here talking about Bobby and pissing baby girl off?” the man asked as he sat across from Brent.

Brent looked at him then answered. “Well, sir. I was just trying to find out why you agreed to employ someone with his record. It wasn’t my intention to make her angry,” he said.

“She doesn’t tolerate folks talking about Bobby. He’s gonna always have her support,” the man said. “I’m Thomas, and this is my place. Bobby’s started working here when he was fifteen,” he finished. They fell silent for a second as Bobby came out of the kitchen and delivered two trays before he walked over to their table. Nearly six feet tall and heavily muscled Bobby Giles stood out in the confines of the restaurant.

“Mr. Windsor?” he asked as he dried his hands on a towel at his waist. “I’m Bobby Giles. Sky said you were looking for me,” he said.

“Bobby, I’m just making an initial visit to make sure that you’re still working and to introduce myself. I’ll be coming around to your apartment to check everything out as soon as I get settled,” Brent said.

“Well, it’ll be a short trip, young fella. He lives right upstairs,” Thomas said with a chuckle. “Hope you enjoyed your meal,” he said before he pulled himself out of the booth and patted Bobby on the shoulder before walking away.

“Look, I know that you have to do this but you can’t come in here upsetting people. I’m here, you just met both of my bosses and T told you where I live. Please don’t come in here talking to Sky about me,” Bobby said. He stood beside the booth while speaking to Brent, the look on his face begging him to understand the point that he was trying to get across.

“I’m sorry if I upset your girlfriend Mr. Giles, I really am. I didn’t know that the fact that you’re on parole was a secret,” Brent said. He was beginning to wish that he’d never come into this restaurant.

At that Bobby shook his head and asked, “Is there anything else you need from me today, Mr. Windsor?”

“No, like I said I’ll be coming through to check out your housing but we might have a few office visits first. Here’s my card, give me a call and we’ll set up an appointment,” Brent said. He passed him a card and asked if he could have someone bring his check.

“Sure thing, Mr. Windsor,” Bobby said before walking away.

Inspiration

The Inspiration for Thomas' Chicken and Chips

What I love most about writing is that I can be inspired by anything. It could be a story from a friend, a building, or good food.  This particular piece was inspired by a trip to Charleston where I was inspired by this building and a great chicken barbeque sandwich with a side of fried green tomatoes. * This is just an excerpt of an excerpt so don’t get too involved.

 

Friendship

Sometimes friendship is more than you ever expected. Like receiving flowers from Tanzania when you’re having a horrible day. Yes it was only a picture but it brightened my day. It is getting support on your thesis as you wait for feedback from your thesis mentor. Friendship is getting a “cleverly dubbed” tea blend through the mail when you need it most. Not just because you love tea, but because you love all things cleverly phrased.
I am blessed to have the type of friends that value my friendship as much as I value them.