Sarah Wheeler navigated around the lumber piled up beside the carriage house. The smell of shaved wood filled her nostrils, and the dust stuck to her navy blue skirt. She watched as two construction workers packed up their tools and got in their trucks to leave for the day.
Sarah came to Captiva Island to help her mother open the Key Lime Garden Inn only a few months ago. The establishment’s popularity in such a short amount of time surprised everyone. The inn was so successful both Sarah and her mother, Maggie, needed to find other accommodations to free up all six bedrooms for guests.
Paolo, the inn’s co-owner came up with a solution. They would renovate the carriage house to provide the necessary room while keeping the women close enough to take care of guests no matter the hour.
Construction was well under way. Maggie talked non-stop about her plans for the new apartment. The arrangement wouldn’t work for Sarah, however. She needed to speak up before the project continued much further.
As Director of Community Relations at Coastal Community outreach in Ft. Myers, the daily drive from Captiva exhausted Sarah. Even traveling against the traffic both ways made for a slow ride. As soon as she decided to stay in Florida and take the job, she bought a car–a cute blue Prius. She sold her old car to her sister Beth who whined until Sarah gave in.
It wasn’t practical for Sarah to live on Captiva. She found an available condo to rent rather than buy property. She wanted to take her time and make that decision after being on the job for a few months. Sarah didn’t tell her mother until she was sure she got the place.
Paolo was working in the garden and waved to Sarah. “How is work going? Ciara says you’re doing a great job.”
“Hi, Paolo. It’s been busy for sure, but I love it. Have you seen my mother? I need to talk to her about something”
“She should be back any minute. She went over to Chelsea’s to pick up a painting for the front room.”
Sensing Sarah had something important on her mind, Paolo asked, “Is there something I can help you with?”
Sarah considered the question. Paolo’s opinion on Maggie’s reaction might help.
“I know my mother was planning on us living in the carriage house, but I don’t think that’s going to work. I decided to see what I might be able to rent, and found a condo not too far from the bridge on Summerlin. It’s perfect for me to get to work and to Captiva. I just don’t know how mom will feel about it.
“Your mother wouldn’t want you to be unhappy. It can be difficult to travel back and forth. My sister complains about it all the time. Don’t worry. I’m sure your mother will support whatever you want to do.”
“I’m feeling a little guilty.”
“I came to Captiva to help her with the inn. Then I go off and get a job and a condo, which takes me away from here.”
“Don’t be silly. We never could have managed the computer program you set up. You’ve done so much on top of your work at the Outreach center. Besides, your mother isn’t alone. She has a staff now to help run this place.”
At that instant Paolo spotted Maggie walking up the driveway carrying a large, framed painting, and ran to help her.
“Oh, thank you, Paolo,” Maggie said. “This thing weighs a ton.”
Paolo lifted the painting and motioned toward Sarah.
“Let me get this inside and hang it up. I think Sarah wants a few minutes with you.”
As Paolo walked inside, Maggie turned to her daughter. “Is everything all right, honey?”
Screwing up her courage, Sarah said, “Mom, I know how much you want the two of us to live in the carriage house, but driving back and forth to work is too much for me. I really need to live off-island.”
Maggie smiled and nodded. “That makes sense. I wondered how long it would take you to come to that conclusion. I know how difficult traffic on the island can be. Why don’t we see what’s available and go look at some apartments?”
“We don’t have to. I already did and I found a place. I signed a one-year lease this afternoon.”
The speed of the decision took Maggie aback, but she supported Sarah’s choice. “Oh, wow. That’s great. So, you’ll be moving right away?”
Sarah looked down at the broken shells in the driveway. She moved them around with her foot.
“Mom, I feel awful about this. I mean, you know I’ll be over here all the time when I’m not working. I’ll help you with whatever you need. All you have to do is call and I’ll come right over.”
Her mother put her arms around Sarah and tried to comfort her.
“Don’t worry about me. I have plenty of help. It’s not your job to look after me. I love that you want to but you need to care for yourself. I’ll call you if I need you. Just come to visit. You don’t always have to help with the inn. I can’t wait to see your place. We’ll help you move into your apartment if you need us.”
“Thanks, Mom. You’re going to love it. It’s modern and has a super open-concept look. I’ve got a pool, too. It’s a house in a gated community and was listed as a condo. It’s probably bigger than I need, but the price was right.”
“It sounds amazing. I’m sure I’ll love it. I’m glad you’re going to have your own place. You need your privacy. After all, you don’t want to bring a date back here.”
Sarah knew that was her mother’s way of opening a conversation about her dating life. A life that was starting to pick up, even though she kept that information to herself.
“We’re not going to discuss that, Mom, no matter how many times you try.”
“Oh, come on. I’ve been good. I haven’t been that nosey. You know I’ve been waiting for you to tell me what’s going on between you and Trevor. Give me something. Please?”
Sarah laughed. “All right, all right. Don’t beg. What do you want to know?”
“You seem happy. Can I assume that’s because of Trevor?”
“I’m happy about a lot of things, and yes, Trevor is one of them.”
“How about we go inside, and I’ll make us some tea? You can tell me about him.”
Sarah smiled and let her mother guide her into the house.
“Mom, I swear there isn’t a conversation that happens in this family without a cup of tea.”
“Don’t complain. A lot of wisdom has been shared after a cup of my tea. Come on. You can spare a few minutes with your mother.”
The women climbed the stairs to the porch arm-in-arm. Inside, Maggie started the flame under the kettle. She used her bone china teapot and covered it with a warmer.
When they settled in her mother’s favorite room, Sarah admired the new artwork. “She certainly is talented. I’m glad she agreed to show her work at the gallery.”
“Chelsea’s been painting steadily and has several pieces ready. I’m her biggest fan. She generously donated this piece to the inn. I love it.”
Her mother poured their tea and sat back. “So, tell me about Trevor.”
“We’ve only been on a few dates. There’s so much about him I don’t know. He comes from a wealthy family. They own lots of commercial and residential real estate all over the country, but especially here in Florida. They have properties overseas as well.”
“So, Trevor has money?”
“He could have all the money he wants, but he decided to go a different way. He’s worked at Oxfam International and America. He’s volunteered at several non-profits focusing on poverty and hunger. He’s a real humanitarian.”
Sarah tried not to gush and watched her mother closely to gauge her reaction.
Maggie smiled, but Sarah knew her mother wanted more information. All Sarah could give her was what she felt in the moment. She didn’t share that the very man she found rude and irritating at first, had captured her heart and invaded her every thought.
“He sounds like a nice guy,” Maggie said. “I hope I get to meet him one of these days.”
“Mom, that sounds an awful lot like pushing to me. You see? This is why I don’t tell you stuff.”
“What did I say?”
“You know what I mean. We’ve just started seeing each other.”
“Fine. I’m just saying when the time is right, bring him around.”
“As it happens, he’s coming to pick me up in an hour. We’re going to Sweet Melissa’s for dinner. You’ll get a chance to say hello. Right now, I’ve got to take a shower, and get ready.”
Sarah got up and kissed her mother’s forehead. “Thanks for the tea, and for being so understanding about the condo. I love you, Mom.”
“Love you too, honey.”
Looking through her closet, Sarah tried to find something to wear, selecting a white blouse and a skirt with a tropical design. Her cell phone rang, and Trevor’s name appeared on the screen.”
“Hi. I was just getting in the shower. Everything all right?”
“Sarah, I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to cancel our dinner tonight. Something’s come up and I can’t make it.”
She didn’t want Trevor to hear the disappointment in her voice. Staying upbeat, she tried her best to act like it was no big deal.
“I understand. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure we can do it another time.”
She was about to hang up when Trevor stopped her. “Wait. I really wanted to see you, but I’m at the hospital. It’s my son. We were throwing a ball on the beach when he collapsed. I don’t know what’s happening I’m waiting for the doctor, but no one has come out to talk to me. I’m about to lose my mind.”
Stunned, Sarah didn’t know what to say. She wanted to ask a million questions, but this wasn’t the time. “Do you want me to come to the hospital? I can leave right now.”
The connection fell silent. She didn’t know if he was still on the line. He might not want her there and couldn’t find a polite way to say no. Sarah didn’t know what to do so she waited.
When he finally answered, Sarah’s heart jumped out of her chest.
“I’m on my way.”