Night Kiss Serial: Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-two
Gray’s Department Store found them as more than eager customers. At the sales clerk’s first sight of Jack, she shrank back, not quite certain what to make of the barefoot, strangely dressed young man.
But soon Claire had her pointing them in all different directions looking for various articles of clothing. Eventually, she even began bringing items back and forth to the dressing room for Jack to try on. Before too long, they had piled the checkout counter with shoes, socks, underwear, shorts, blue jeans and T-shirts, dress shirts and even a swimsuit. Claire also bought some personal supplies like shaving cream and a razor, deodorant, soap and shampoo. Not that he smelled or was dirty, it was simply that the bathing accommodations in the eighteenth century were less than desirable, and Claire was hoping Jack would enjoy a shower so much while he was here he might decide to rig one up for them outside their cabin back in 1718.
After Gray’s, a more relaxed Jack, complete with T-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes, and sunglasses, settled back in Claire’s car to head across the bridge to the mainland.
“I’m thirsty, want a soda or something?
“Yeah, soft drink, uh soda pop. I mean something to drink.”
Jack stared at her. “All right.”
She pulled into a service station. “Here, I’ll let you do it.”
“It’s simple. Here are some coins. See that big red machine beside us?”
Jack glanced at the soda pop dispenser. “Yes.”
“See that little black slot up there to the right?” He nodded.
“Well, just put these coins in there,” she showed him which ones, “push one of the buttons below, any will be fine, and voila! We have soda-pop!”
Jack had a very strange look on his face. Slowly, he opened the door, looked back at her, and stood up.
“Get two!” she shouted after him.
He ducked down to look at her one last time as if he were going off to war or something. Then he turned to the machine. He carefully inspected the coins in his hand and then one by one put them in the machine, glancing to his right and left each time someone passed by.
When he’d deposited the coins she had given him, he cautiously pushed a button—and jumped back in fright as the can fell with a clatter to the opening at the bottom. He looked back at Claire.
She giggled and nodded, urging him to pick it up. He did. Someone stepped up beside him.
Jack looked at him and then at Claire. She held up one finger, urging him to purchase another soda.
He studied the coins in his hand once again.
“Going to get one, buddy, or play with your money?”
Jack stepped back. “You go.” He nodded to the machine.
He watched as the man quickly poked his coins in the slot, punched a button, snatched his drink, and then cast a backward glance at Jack. He walked away, shaking his head. Jack looked at Claire once more and then stepped again to the machine.
Following the man’s direction, he poked the coins in the slot, punched a button, and then snatched the other drink. Not giving the machine a backward glance, he opened the car door and plopped down, handing the drinks to Claire.
“Okay?” She smiled at him as she took the can of Coke out of his hand and popped the top.
He jumped at the hiss and nodded. She popped the top of his soft drink and handed it to him and then took a drink of hers. He followed suit and frowned.
“Okay.” He handed her the left over change.
Claire smiled. “You like it?”
“Bubbly,” he replied, thrusting the change at her again.
“Keep it. Put a little jingle in your pocket.”
“It’s money. Keep it in your pocket. You might want another soda pop one day.”
He took a drink of his root beer and grimaced. “Not likely,” he sputtered.
She smiled and pressed her foot to the accelerator. “It will be pretty expensive to stay here tonight. It’s still early yet, so why don’t we go on over to the mainland tonight, get a room somewhere, then get an early start in the morning.” She turned off Beach Road and headed toward the by-pass. “That all right with you?”
“Whatever you think. I really feel a little lost right now. Do all men in this time wear their pants this tight?”
Jack squirmed in the seat and Claire grinned. “Too tight? They looked like they fit just fine.”
“A mite uncomfortable, you know. Just not used to them, I guess.”
“Oh, and getting used to that corset and layer upon layer of fabric took me more than a little effort, but I managed.”
“Managed?” Jack threw her a questioning look. “You ripped them quite apart, you did. I’ve a mind to do the same here.”
“What’s the problem, the jeans or the underwear?”
He glanced away, embarrassed. “It’s the drawers, you know. It’s tight and…”
“Well, it pinches, you see.” Jack faced the window.
She giggled. “Well, at least you’ve got them.”
He looked back at her.
Claire smiled wickedly. “Hannah never wore underwear, I take it.”
His eyes grew wide. Then he laughed. “No,” he returned. “Maybe I should just remove them.”
Claire raised an eyebrow. “Just be mindful of the zipper.” She looked at him until he acknowledged her last statement. Then he grimaced slightly.
“Yes. Zipper. I’ll be mindful of the zipper.”
She slowed and pulled off into a parking lot and then stopped.
“Where are we going, Hannah Claire?”
She stared out the windshield in front of him. “Inside here for just a minute. I think I’m forming a plan. I only need one thing. Are you coming?”
He reached for the door handle. “I’m right behind you.”
The sign above the entrance simply said North Carolina Books. Inside, they found an abundance of books on the state and the area. After a while they narrowed their selections to those on the Outer Banks and Blackbeard. Finally, she pulled exactly the book she was looking for off the shelf.
“Bingo,” she said quietly.
Claire shut the book and laid it on the bedside table, twisted the switch to extinguish the light, and settled comfortably into the pillows and comforters of the motel bed. Turning onto her side, she angled her gaze toward Jack sleeping soundly beside her. A small shaft of light beamed in between the draperies that wouldn’t quite meet, and fell in muted illumination upon Jack’s face. She smiled. He was exhausted, but had adjusted better than she had in his time. At least he didn’t complain too long about the jeans.
Thinking back on the day’s events, she recalled stopping at the bookstore. It had been their one stroke of luck. Now she had a plan and had tentatively mapped out their itinerary for the next couple of weeks.
The book titled “The Treasures of Blackbeard” had provided her with some ammunition, some clues and points of reference. She’d quickly scanned it and decided their best bet was to head south, take the bridge over to Roanoke Island, then across to Manns Harbor to take 264 South and then west. So that’s what they did.
When they’d arrived, they grabbed some fast food and settled into a family-run motel just off the highway.
Now, she was simply glad to have Jack sleeping beside her. She knew there would be no other man, in this time or any other, who could love her as much as Jack loved her. Of that, she was certain. Carefully, she leaned over and placed a silent kiss on his cheek.
“Good night, my love,” she whispered.
The next two weeks took Claire and Jack on a scavenger hunt of likely spots to find Rick, all of them associated to various degrees with Blackbeard and his treasure. At each step along the way, Claire flashed a wallet-sized picture of Rick and left her name and phone number for the house at the beach, and Vicki’s number in Ohio, in case someone did recognize him.
They traveled inland as far Grimesland and Greenville, small towns located on the Tar River. Blackbeard frequented both towns in his day. Reportedly, he had a sister who farmed near there and allowed her brother to rest and recover from his wounds when necessary. According to the book, there was an old cypress tree near the farm called “Old Table-Top,” which was used as a lookout point where Blackbeard could detect sudden attacks from up the river. A few treasure-hunting maps indicated that this could be a spot of buried treasure. In fact, according to the book, a man dug up a small iron pot half-filled with old silver coins in 1933. But as they visited there, Rick never materialized. And no one claimed to have seen anyone who looked like him.
At least that was what they said.
From Greenville, their search took them to Washington, near Blount’s Creek, to historic Bath Town, and then north to Edenton and Holliday’s Island on the Albemarle Sound. But still they found no leads and no Rick.
She turned to Jack as they stood on a pier jutting out into Albemarle Sound just east of Edenton. “We’ve nearly exhausted every lead, Jack. I don’t know if we’re going to find him.”
His gaze stretched over the evening horizon. “We still have to look. We can’t stop.
“We’ve done all we can here, Jack. I don’t know what avenue to explore next. Perhaps we should return to the islands.” She leaned against the rail and peered into the dark water. “We’ve not thoroughly searched Ocracoke Island and the village. Maybe we should have done that first.”
He shook his head. “I don’t think we should go back until we know we’ve exhausted every possibility here. And then there is Ohio. We have to find that chalice.” He turned her toward him. “Hannah Claire, I’ll not live the rest of my life wondering if you are going to be ripped out of it again.”
She understood. She just wasn’t sure she knew how to make it happen.
A thought struck her. “I almost forgot, the book also said something about another island, I think it was called Mulberry Island, somewhere on the York River in Virginia. Maybe we should take a ride up there. If you think you’re up to it.”
He straightened, squared his shoulders. “Of course I’m up to it! Let’s get ready to go. We are wasting time. The sooner we find that cup the sooner we can return home.”
On Mulberry Island, Jack collapsed, frightening both her and an older woman passerby on the street. He’d vomited along the side of the road, embarrassing himself, which only added to his insecurity about being ill. The ensuing scene at the hospital wasn’t much better.
Apparently Jack had contracted a good dose of salmonella poisoning from a fast food restaurant somewhere along the way. She had felt a bit queasy herself, but that had been the norm for her for a while lately.
She was deeply worried. He hadn’t eaten much. He was pale and weak and close to dehydration. The doctors wanted to admit him for the night, but Jack would hear none of it. Stubbornly, he rushed out of the hospital and into Claire’s car, ordering her to take him back to the motel to rest. It was all he needed, he told her. To rest.
She wondered if he needed more than that. She wondered if the only cure lay in a pile of sand called Ocracoke Island back in 1718.
At the motel, he fell into a deep sleep the moment she tucked his body between the sheets. Now she had to consider her next steps.
Picking up the phone, she dialed Vicki’s number. After two rings she heard her friend’s rushed hello.
“Claire. Thank God, it’s you.”
“I told you I would call.”
“I know, but it’s been a couple of days. Have you had any luck? Did you find Rick?” Vicki’s voice seemed strained.
“No. Haven’t seen him. Any sightings on your end?”
The phone hung silent for several long seconds. “No. But there is something else we need to talk about.”
She paused, suddenly not liking the turn in the conversation. Something was wrong. “What is it, Vicki?”
“Claire, I didn’t want to tell you like this but you have to come home. Soon. Your mother is dying. The cancer’s gotten much worse.”
Feeling as if a dagger had just pierced her heart, blood spurting in her chest cavity, she sank weakly to the bed. Hadn’t expected this now. Today. It killed her to think of her mother dying.
How could she ever forgive herself for that? She would not let that happen.
“How bad is she?”
“She refuses treatment. Needs dialysis. But you know how she is, stubborn as an old mule. She says it’s her time.”
Her time. Yes. She somehow knew it was.
“I’m coming.” She glanced at Jack sleeping beside her. “We’ll start in the morning.”
“Good. She’s asking for you. Says she has things to tell you.”
She’d barely said good-bye before the phone slid from her hand and banged to the floor. Startled, Jack bolted up and looked at her. She stood up, faltered for a second while retrieving the phone, and then replaced it in its cradle. Jack reached for her and she sat beside him on the bed.
“Something’s wrong, m’love.”
“Yes.” Tears stung at her eyelids.
He reached up and stroked her cheek, brushing the hair from her eyes. “Tell me.”
“She’s dying,” she whispered. “We have to go to Ohio in the morning. I’m sorry. We have to stop searching for—”
He placed a finger on her lips. “Hush, my love. The chalice will wait. It is time you see your mother. I’ll sleep in the car. Let’s go now.”
She nodded and fell sobbing into his arms, thanking God she had him.