Driving through Savannah in blazing daylight restored our courage. Even the graveyard looked a little less intimidating. We found a decent radio station and made it back to Delilah's a little before noon. The place looked more peaceful than last night, and I found parking right away.
Jason must have been hanging on the ship's crow's nest, for even before I brought the car to a halt, he was lunging off the front porch grinning from ear to ear.
He had eyes only for Bene, which proved essential when she almost fell, tripping on her own feet as she got out of the car. He managed to catch her right before she went splat!
Maybe she did it on purpose so he'd have to hug her. Stars shot out their eyes and violins started playing.
It wasn't violins instigated by their passions, but violins we heard undeniably, as Benedetta's cell phone screeched for attention like a newborn demanding a feed. It was my turn to get all worked up. Benedetta answered, discontentedly dislodging her limbs from Jason's. She handed me the phone, smirking.
Gabe, from Australia. Gulp!
"Hey, luv!" he greeted me, melting me. I sprouted wings, taking a chance at fluttering on the spot; I batted my eyelashes, found solid ground again, and blushed.
"How are you?" I chirped.
"Not bad. Where are you?"
"In Savannah with Benedetta. We're in the parking lot of the restaurant I'm writing about." I plugged my free ear with a finger to hear him better.
"So the fun hasn't started yet?"
I thought of last night and smiled. "The fun has already begun. Ever since we left home we've been busy."
"I actually meant to ask you about that." He paused. "When are you due back home?"
"We're leaving later tonight, after supper. We should be back in Pensacola tomorrow morning, early."
"Great, because I'm sending you something, and I wanted to make sure you'll be home for it."
"What is it?"
I heard him laugh softly. "You don't know what I'd give to see the look on your face right this moment."
"Well? What is it?" I asked again, rocking impatiently on the balls of my feet.
"Just wait and see."
"You're making me want to jump in the car and head back right now." I was seriously intrigued. I stopped the swinging; I was getting motion sickness.
"No, don't do that. I haven't sent it yet. I was thinking about you last night, and I felt you closer than ever. But it was so bloody frustrating, luv. I don't know how you're managing to hang on. So I figured I'd ship you something to close the distance a bit." He was really fueling my curiosity.
"I was thinking about you too," I said, once again amazed at the connection between us. "I was taking a bath before bed and wondered if you ever-"
"Look up at the moon and ask if you're staring at the sky as well?" he finished for me.
"You know-you take my breath away." I smiled softly.
"How long you think you can go without it?"
"At the rate we're going, not much longer."
"Hang in there, luv. In a few minutes you'll have forgotten all about it, busy with delicious food and other important matters."
"No. What's going to happen is that I'll be so busy trying to figure out what you're sending that I won't be able to write anything sensible. Give me a hint," I pleaded.
"Hint, eh?" He paused to consider my words.
How great it was to talk to him again, even to just play and tease one another like this. I felt an adrenaline rush, and my emotions stirred, responding to his energy.
"No. Sorry. No hint. You're going to have to just wait. It won't be long."
I gave up. "OK, then. I'll try. But it better be good," I laughed.
"I'll call you again tomorrow evening once you get home ..." He lowered his voice, "... when you'll be alone and I can tell you how much I miss you and all sorts of other things that might really distract you from your job."
"Great. At least I've been warned and can now plan on fighting back."
"Fighting back is healthy."
"OK then, I'll look forward to tomorrow evening."
"Me too. Bye, luv."
"Bye, Gabe," I said, hanging up.
I found myself standing alone in the parking lot. Gabe's voice still sizzled in my ears. I pocketed the cell phone, grabbed my notebook, and walked up to the restaurant. Delilah greeted me at the front screen door looking even more stunning than she had the previous night. She wore a simple wraparound dress the color of glowing amber. Her hair shone raven-black, braided high on her head and coiled, held in place with multicolored pins. I felt rather homely in my cargo shorts and yellow tank top.
"How are you today, my dear?"
"I'm great, Delilah," I answered. I still basked in the afterglow of Gabe's phone call.
"Ready to continue our conversation? Or would you rather eat something first?"
I told her I would prefer to finish the interview first, and she nodded in agreement, leading the way to the kitchen.
Benedetta and Jason had evaporated. I soon forgot about them as Delilah and I began to go over her corn muffin recipe. She handed me an oversized apron and tied one around her body as well and then proceeded to show me how she soaks Silver Queen corn kernels in warm milk for several hours until they are plump and moist. She added them to a smooth batter of corn meal, eggs, maple syrup, unbleached flour, whole milk, salt, and baking soda.
"The secret is in the soaked kernels," she told me as she buttered a large muffin pan. She set it down, satisfied, and began buttering another.
"You seem to use the soaking technique a lot," I commented, remembering the ham soup.
Delilah nodded. "I find it does enhance the flavors. Fresh herbs added at the last minute to soups, stews, and salads is another one of my favorite kitchen secrets. For example, the bean soup is excellent when I serve it cold with chopped, fresh cilantro."
Now that was an innovative idea. I asked her if I could mention it in the article, and instead of answering, she told me she would like me to try some. She finished buttering the last muffin pan and quickly prepared a bowl of soup for me. She handled the sharp knife to chop the cilantro with confident skill. With the knife blade she scooped the finely cut herb and dropped it into the bowl. She wiped the blade against her apron. "Doesn't it smell heavenly?"
I lowered my nose closer to the bowl. "Yes, it does, Delilah. Sometimes I wish that when I write about something, the readers could actually inhale the aromas I try to describe. Writing can be so-limiting, so two-dimensional."
Delilah nodded. "I understand what you mean. Most of my clients-many of the faithful ones-were drawn in by the mouth-watering aromas from my kitchen or by the guitar playing on the porch. Just driving by they had to stop and see what it was all about." She grinned over the huge bowl as she scooped the batter out to fill the muffin pan up to the rim. Lost in the sweet memories, she absentmindedly dripped batter onto the floor. I didn't have the heart to tell her, but I quietly moved her arm so the dripping would continue harmlessly back into the bowl. She regained consciousness and resumed her task. "How do you like it?"
I took a moment to savor the spoonful I had taken. The soft texture of the beans and the freshness of the cilantro exploded together in my mouth. The flavor of the ham stock danced at the back of my tongue.
"Wow, Delilah! I think I like it better cold than hot." I took another spoonful. Maybe I was afraid the second one wouldn't be as good as the first, so I hurried before my taste buds would get used to the flavors, but it didn't happen. I contemplated tilting my bowl in order to get what was left of the delicious soup.
Delilah came to my rescue, handing me a muffin fresh from the oven. "Gerome was right when he told me I'd enjoy talking to you as much as you'd enjoy my food," she told me.
Still busy chewing, I looked at her for a moment. "Is that what he said?"
"He said you're special, that you'd be inquisitive but respectful, and a pleasure to watch when you eat a dish you appreciate."
Aeson chose that instant of perfect timing to walk into the kitchen, sporting a smart golf outfit and a huge grin. He waltzed to Delilah's side, took her in his arms, and swirled her around to silent music, not forgetting to wink at me over her shoulder. I cupped my chin in my hands and enjoyed the sight thinking about how timeless love is just absolutely beautiful.
He bowed and kissed her hand. She regally curtsied just as Jason walked in from the courtyard door and snapped a photo of them. That would make a great article introduction, I thought. The beginnings of an idea stirred to life, my brain gears meshing against one another like a huge clock movement.
Benedetta walked in right behind Jason, still in one piece, and I asked her if she was ready to go.
I dreaded the thought of having to watch Benedetta and Jason say good-bye to one another, expecting some sort of high drama, but my dear friend handled it pretty smoothly. They'd exchanged phone numbers earlier and were happy enough with that.
I thanked Delilah and her family for their hospitality and wished her my best. We exchanged hugs and sincere promises to keep in touch.
Benedetta and I spent the late afternoon in downtown Savannah browsing through small, off-the-beaten-path bookstores where we bought several books featuring recipes for me, haunted house and folklore tales for Benedetta. We found a great kitchen store where I bought new spice jars to be delivered to Delilah's restaurant the same day, as a way of thanking her and helping her replace the spooked ones she was "fixin' to get rid of."
We headed back to the car after a light seafood supper that we washed down with a bottle of crisp Sauvignon Blanc. It was such an excellent wine we didn't even mind the tall African American fellow who chased us from outside the small restaurant for several blocks trying to sell us tickets to a voodoo ritual later that evening. Benedetta finally stopped, straightened her glasses, and told him that if he wouldn't bugger off, she would ritual him right then and there. He walked away crossing himself.
"You know, you're beginning to scare me," I told her, resuming our walk.
"About time," she said enigmatically.
"You want me to fear you?" I grinned. She couldn't be serious.
"No, but made you think," she said, giving me a little shove.
"You'd be good at this voodoo business."
"You think I ought to quit my job and embrace my true vocation?" She stopped and raised her arms in a voodooist pose, holding her shopping bags aloft. It totally ruined the effect.
I looked at her straight blond bob, her clear blue eyes, and sincere expression. I shook my head. "No way!"
"Let's go home, Porzia."
"No worries." I had a delivery to look forward to.
Once back in the car with Savannah behind us and the countryside ahead, Benedetta looked up from her book of Savannah haunted houses and gave me a blank stare.
"No worries. You said, 'No worries'." She smirked.
"'No worries' is something Gabe says a lot," I told her.
"What's odd about Gabe saying 'no worries'? He is Australian. It's a typical Australian phrase."
"I'm aware of that. The oddity of the situation lies in the fact that, dating you, he ought to be at least concerned, if not downright worried."
I recognized the academic tone she usually reserved for her classroom.
"I'm hungry," she announced suddenly, sitting up. "I could use a snack."
"Check to see if we have any dried-fruit mix left. I'm getting hungry myself."
Munching on some pineapple I drove us through darkness. Benedetta was humming softly. I recognized the tune. "So, how about Jason?"
"He's something else, Porzia," she answered dreamily.
"It's not only his looks. It's the way he sang on the porch and didn't mind my whistling or my goofiness." Her voice tingled with captivation.
"I love your whistling. And I don't think you're goofy. At least not as much as I am. So, if you'd like to tell me more ..."
"I don't know what's going to happen." She looked out the dark window. "I mean, he's got such a different life, shooting models and glamorous photos. He could have anybody he wanted. Why would he choose me?" She sighed.
"I've never heard you talk like this." I was stunned at how candid she was about her fears.
"What about you and Gabe? Don't you worry about stuff like that?"
I was silent for a moment thinking about her question. No, I wasn't worried about other women or trust matters. I was worried about a past-life-regression soul mate interfering with what was happening in my present.
"I need to tell you something, Bene."
And I spilled the beans.
I told her everything. I spent the next hour confessing all I had on my mind, all that weighed on my heart, from my promise to Joséphine to the past life regression and what I had seen. I told her of Xavier and the love we'd shared and how strongly I felt about it. I told her of Evalena's advice and how I had met Gabe right afterward. And I told her of the intense physical attraction he and I shared on the plane. I told her of my inability to calm the confusion in my head at first and then finally loving again after Steve. I told her about the magical feeling surrounding the entire escapade: signs, omens, Madame Framboise's cards, and, finally, my constant wondering if Gabe was or wasn't Xavier and whether I should even bother with the entire thing or just stand up on my own two feet and surf the wave.
"But I'm not worried about other women," I concluded as we left Georgia and crossed back into Florida.
Benedetta was silent for a while.
"Are you asleep?" I glanced over.
"No. Would you like me to drive?" she offered.
"I'm fine. But I'd like to know what you think."
"I think you're afraid. So this mental jerking-off thing that you're engaging in is not really because you're worried about him being or not being Xavier. You're worried about him not being the one because you're not ready to be with the one. Full stop."
What did I tell you about her way of speaking? And she wasn't even done yet. "You don't even worry about normal insecurities like other women, like why me? Or is he for real?
"Are you listening, Porzia? You're spending so much energy building insurmountable obstacles that it's insane! Why not use such ill-spent energy to create an enormous amount of healing magic instead?" She shook her head. "I guess I'm doing the same about Jason, just on a smaller scale, eh?" She pushed her glasses up her nose.
"I am listening!" I said, frowning. "What's more, I think you're right."
Accidenti! She was. "I don't know how to harness the magic."
"Of course you don't." She smiled. "Magic finds you as soon as you stop building obstacles. Don't worry. When are you going to see him again?"
"In a couple of weeks, I guess. He's got some things to take care of and then he'll be flying over to see me here." Right at that moment I realized how much I missed him. The distance between us stretched my emotions like vibrating, colored threads extended to their limits, threatening to snap at any minute. And what of the effort he was making, hating to fly as he did and leaving his beloved Australia-to see me? "He told me he's sending something I should be getting any day now."
"No wonder you're hauling ass," she laughed.
She was right again, I thought as we drove on through the night.
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