“Tina said you had a new job. What was it again?” John asked her as they trundled through the woods. He had to raise his voice a little over the loud rumble of the mule’s engine.
“It’s with an engineering company. I’m a CAD operator.”
At John’s look of puzzlement, she went on, “I use a program called AutoCAD to correct engineer drawings of the pipes and vessels and all their intricate layouts in a petrochemical plant. It can get kind of tedious, but it pays excellent money.”
“I thought you said you were an archaeologist,” John asked.
Chloe tried not to sigh. Justifying her non-use of an anthropology degree was often an ego-deflating exercise. There was often a perception that she should be running off to some Third World country to hack her way through a jungle with a machete and wrest golden idols from booby traps and it was a bubble few people liked having burst. This confession was often met with a smug, knowing look and a change of subject. She knew John and Tina were smarter – and kinder – than that: they understood there was a lot more to the field of archaeology than fedoras and treasures or underwater basket weaving; but it still felt like social defeat whenever she had to admit that her dreams of excavation and world travel had taken a more pragmatic turn.
“I did…I am,” she replied. “Sort of. Not much money in being a shovel bum, though. I try to volunteer where I can, but there haven’t been any new contracts lately. A friend suggested I get into the more technical field, so I found a school that taught AutoCAD. It’s used in archaeology, to an extent.”
“I was also sorry to hear about your mother,” John added, with genuine sympathy. “It was hard for us to hear about, so soon after Tina lost hers. We prayed for you.”
Chloe nodded. She didn’t trust herself to speak about it just yet, so she just let the suppressed sigh out. Her natural mother. She had called Tina to unleash her sorrow for several hours. It had been the only release she could find at the time.
“Thank you. I loved the beautiful plant y’all sent,” she said to lighten the moment and was thankful that the tears that were usually forthcoming on this particular subject decided to give her a break. She’d cried enough today. “I don’t know how, but it’s still growing, as much as I’ve neglected it. I’m sure if I started to pay attention to it, it would turn black and disintegrate.”
“That’s good.” John grinned. “Better you than me. Tina doesn’t let me near the houseplants. Something about permafrost and Alaska. So…what’d you think?” he added, with a sly look.
“Your rescuers? Jack Aubrey? Cort?”
“Fine,” she drawled, on guard now. “What about them?”
“Is that all?” John sounded disappointed. “Just ‘fine’?”
“You’re not going to get into this business about how the reason I got here was because I was connected to someone, are you?” Tina had given her the run-down on the classic premise of coming to the Point. She’d responded that with her luck, she would probably be very different. Wish luck didn’t have to be so literal, she mused. “Because I assure you, a boyfriend is the last person I need right now.”
“Well, I was going to ask what did you think of meeting my Brothers, but yeah, okay,” John replied, undaunted. “Either one of them strike you as interesting?”
“I found both of them interesting. I mean, it was Jack Aubrey! I know he probably thinks I’m totally rude, but I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Not with green stuff all over my face. And I don’t know anything about the other guy.” That didn’t stop your heart from flipping when he looked at you. “Did I hear you call him a preacher?”
“Yeah, from the Old West. Gunfighter turned to man of God. You haven’t seen his movie yet? The Quick and the Dead?”
Chloe shook her head. “I haven’t been in much of a movie-watching mood lately,” she replied.
“Well, don’t sweat why you’re here. It’ll all work out.”
“I’m here to see you guys,” Chloe assured him. “I wanted to see if it was real.”
“Here’s a good way to start. We’re at our house,” John said, and pointed.
They’d come over a gentle rise in the landscape which became an open expanse of more rolling terrain. On the crest of one knoll sat a white two story house. A long meandering line of beach lay at the foot of the rise. Ocean waves beat against the time-toppled spikes of an old jetty. Gulls careened and squawked overhead. The house looked out over it with a serene face, partially covered in ivy. A balcony sat above an arc of bay windows like a sentry, perched on the chance that some vessel might hove into view.
John paused the mule for a moment so Chloe could get a good look. “Remind you of anything?” he beamed.
“Gull Cottage, from ‘The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’!” Chloe exclaimed in a wash of happiness. She and Tina had connected on line because of a shared love of the movie. “She told me about it but I just didn’t think it was possible…”
They pulled into a carport behind the house and John lugged her suitcases out of the UTV.
“Go in and surprise her,” he said to her as he dragged it to the back door where a bank of windows revealed a kitchen beyond. Chloe caught her reflection in one of the them and gasped in dismay.
“Oh, my God, no! Is that how I appeared to the others? No wonder y’all had looks of pity on your faces!” She rounded on John in panic. “Maybe I can just hose myself off out here? I don’t want to track all of this through your house.”
“Stay put. I’ll get her,” John told her, laughing.
“Don’t laugh,” Chloe demanded, but ended up chuckling herself. John’s giggle, a copy of his Creator’s, was infectious.
“You won’t hide in the bushes, will you?” John asked. “I have the keys to the mule, if you’re thinking of escape.”
“Oh, just go get her!”
She heard voices within, wondered how quickly she could get to the bathroom without the usual social greetings. A long hot bath…
“Chloe?” Tina appeared at the doorway, dressed sweetly in a matching pink skirt and blouse. “Oh, my God, are you okay?”
“I am, now,” she replied, “but you probably don’t want to come near me right now.”
“John told me there was an accident…but what happened to you, hon? You look like you’ve rolled around in a pile of mown grass!”
“I wish it had just been that. I really, really want to wash it off right now.”
“Well, come in! Anthony’s on his way. The girls and I are just finishing up.”
Others! Chloe started to back out of the doorway, but John was in the way.
“I was serious about that hose,” Chloe turned to John. “Can you show me where is it?”
“Sorry, I have to get back,” he said, completely ditching her. He leant over and planted a firm kiss upon his wife’s lips. “See you later!” With that he hurried back to the mule and was off again.
“You know, it won’t hurt my feelings a bit if you follow me with a Dust Buster,” Chloe told Tina as the woman led her back inside. “I have no idea what this stuff is, but it’s starting to fall off and make a trail.”
“Oh, come on,” Tina urged Chloe with a laugh, “you can tell us what happened after you get cleaned up. They’re in the front room anyway, so they won’t see you when we go upstairs.”
“I’m gonna need decades to get this crap off,” Chloe groused as she followed.
The back door led directly into the kitchen; which, despite the house’s charming Victorian exterior, was a full complement of every modern appliance and cutlery. Sleek counters and cabinets were set in neat arrangement with a large cooking range, a rack of pots and pans hung from the ceiling; there was a walk-in pantry, and a glassed in niche showcasing fine china and crystal. They entered the foyer and Chloe saw it was exactly as it had appeared in the film, although Tina had made efforts to give it a more modern elegance. They both somehow managed to drag the suitcase up the stairs, a split level well that featured a window box overlooking the hills, and into the corridor leading to the bedrooms. They both let go of the suitcase with a sigh when they entered a small guest room.
“There’s your in-suite bathroom there,” Tina pointed out, “with lots of towels and toiletries. Go ahead and take your time, but it would be so good if you could come down and meet the girls. They’ve been wanting to meet you since we got back from San Antonio.”
It took longer for Chloe to decide what to wear than it did showering and scrubbing off the remnants of the wild man spa. She chose a loose-flowing cotton skirt and matching top and dried her curly hair to a slight dampness. The hot water had made her feel loose and limp and too lazy to bother with makeup, so with one final look-over, she opened her bedroom door, took a deep breath, and made her way back down the stairs.
Female voices drifted from the parlor to her right, and she stepped as quietly as she could into the doorway, peering around the doorpost to try and get a look at them before they saw her. That failed, because a woman that was not Tina sat on the couch facing the door and had a direct view. She stopped in mid-sentence and stood up with a big grin.
“There she is! At last, we get to see you! I’m Siobhan and this is Stephanie, Dr. Anthony’s wife. That’s Jennifer, Savannah, Adalia, and Thea. We heard that you’d been in an accident. Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” Chloe replied, smiling at their warm welcome. She gave them an abbreviated account of events. “I hope I’m not interrupting something important,” she added as she sat down on the couch with them.
“Not at all,” Siobhan replied, and handed her some pamphlets and flyers. They were labeled Fruit of the Wine Festival for the Giving Tree Retreat – sponsored by the Le Point Perdu and Lux Hispanium Vineyards. “So I don’t bore you with the dirty details, the Point is hosting an event this weekend that will not only feature wines from our vineyards, but give a fundraiser for the retreat. That’s a picture of the main house there. We came here to work out the kinks but we all have the night before the test ADD. You’re just in time to see us all go nuts.”
“Details,” Stephanie snorted. “Feels like eighteen octopi have demanded seating arrangements all in the same space. And Anthony will be here in a few minutes,” she told Chloe, holding up her phone to show that she’d been texting her husband. “He wants to make sure you don’t have a concussion.”
“I tell you,” Siobhan interjected, “the amount of energy one has to put into the right kind of tablecloths is mind-boggling!”
“It also raises money for Cort’s project,” Adalia informed Chloe. She had introduced herself as the Point’s head chef. “That’s the Hosea Tree part. You might meet him tomorrow. I know he’s out there with the rest of the roundup. He’s usually at the chapel or the retreat house.”
“It was his idea, actually,” Siobhan said in addendum to Adalia’s explanation.
Chloe felt her eyebrows go up. Somehow the image of Cort in cowboy duds drinking wine did not compute.
“I met him already. He’s one of the ones who found me,” she told them and felt heat rise to her cheeks. “Just him, John, and Jack Aubrey,” she added quickly. “It took me several minutes to accept who I was seeing. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was really the Captain! If I hadn’t met John last fall, I’d have thought I was hallucinating.”
“Isn’t he wonderful to behold?” Tina asked. She set a fine china cup of steaming tea on the coffee table in front of Chloe. “Even when he isn’t in uniform, you know he’s the Captain. The sugar is over there, hon…it’s all so overwhelming, I know, but you do get to a point where you can really appreciate it all, especially the Boys.”
“Is that all who showed up for you?” asked Thea. Chloe noted she was dressed with a decidedly Victorian flair: ruffled skirt, granny boots, leather waistcoat, all in varying shades of brown and cream and oxblood. She wondered if Russell had been in a steampunk movie and Thea was one of the characters. “With so many of the Boys out on the range today, I’d have thought you’d be surrounded.”
“They never miss a chance to welcome a newcomer,” Stephanie added with a laugh.
“I was in kind of an isolated area,” Chloe said. “I don’t think they were expecting to find a stranger unconscious in the middle of nowhere.”
“I wish I knew how it happened,” Tina said.
“It’s the Point. It has this way of doing things…” Savannah explained, and the rest of the girls in the room groaned in sympathy. “It becomes a way of life around here.”
“Well, I wish the Point would find a way do something with this guest list,” Adalia said, and flopped her pad down on the coffee table. “We were expecting a lot more RSVPs. People who promised to be here haven’t sent it in, and people we invited on a chance have been asking if they could bring more. I’ve spent a good many nights worried I’d miscalculated or underestimated.”
Chloe read the program and menu while the ladies took up their concerns again. Minutes later, the doorbell rang and a tall man in dark hair, sweater, and blue jeans walked in, followed by a middle aged woman who could have had nurse stamped on her forehead if such a thing were normal facial decoration. Her white label pin said Claire. Chloe had to make an effort not to gape, for Dr. Anthony Girardeau looked doppleganger to the actor, Joaquin Phoenix. He didn’t wear a lab coat, but there was no mistaking the demeanor of someone who spent most of their time in a hospital.
He gave his wife a quick kiss on the cheek and then turned to introduce himself.
“You mind if I take a look?” he asked of Chloe, waggling his pen-light at her. “Claire is here to make sure I don’t start plugging electrodes into you, so don’t worry about becoming the latest experiment. I think it a good idea to at least get some sort of assessment of your condition.”
“I don’t think I bumped my head,” Chloe replied as she stood. “And I haven’t felt dizzy or nauseous since getting up.”
“John reported that there were some kind of injuries on your arms. Let’s take a look at them,” he replied, firmly.
“Not a problem,” she replied and followed them into another room where they would have more privacy.
“Well, it looks as if you’ll just have some sore muscles and bruises, maybe even a wrenched neck,” he said after all the checks were performed. “You said no dizziness, or extreme sleepiness? No nausea? Good…for now. I want you to stay here with Tina and John so they can monitor you. Let’s not turn loose on the Point until we are reasonably sure you won’t pass out somewhere.”
“Will I have to try and stay up all night?” Chloe asked in dismay.
“I would err on the side of caution and say yes, stay up. I hate to do that to the three of you, but the real tell of a concussion is in the 24 hours following it. Your signs are normal for now, but that can be deceptive. I’ll leave a list of things to look out for, but your first sign of trouble’s going to be if you suddenly start throwing up, or can’t stay awake, or feel any kind of numbness in your limbs. If that happens, call me immediately.”