It had been a long dry spell until that same director, Kowalski, himself a recovering alcoholic, learned Carson had joined AA and offered her a second chance. Carson had given this film her best work, and despite the frustration of the many setbacks and the prima donna actor, she’d stayed clean. Kowalski noticed. At the film’s closing he shook her hand, then offered her another film job. That offer had meant the world to Carson. Not only had her reputation been restored, but she’d proved to herself she could stop drinking under pressure. She’d felt validated and proud—and hopeful.
Carson blew out a stream of air. Now she was in a quandary. She’d promised Blake that this would be her last film gig. That she would end her wandering, return in four short months to settle down with him in Charleston to marry and start a new and different life. A life that meant she’d have to begin the dreaded task of searching for any work she could get in a tight job market. That was the plan. Yet when Kowalski offered her another film job, she couldn’t flat-out refuse. Instead, she’d asked him for time to consider the offer.
She shuddered at the thought of once again joining the ranks of the unemployed. She’d been out of work so long she’d lost her self-esteem. This time, rather than spend recklessly, Carson had saved money from this gig to tide her over until she got another job. Whatever and whenever that was. But it wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough. She had to land a job soon. Carson was too proud to enter a marriage penniless, jobless, and completely dependent on Blake.
Carson looked down at the small diamond bordered on either side with a sapphire resting on her ring finger. Her engagement ring had been Blake’s mother’s ring and her mother’s before her, thus all the more meaningful to Carson. This symbol of his love, of continuance and commitment, had been her touchstone during the six months they’d been apart. She’d held tight to the ring and all the promises it held whenever she’d been tempted to drink—and she’d remained sober. It had been hard, there was no denying it. At times she’d almost slipped. But she’d held on to the promise of the ring.
She covered her hand with her other palm, squeezing tight as she took a deep breath. Was love enough to calm her fears? Could she maintain her independence, her sense of self, if she relinquished her career? She couldn’t bear falling back into the wallowing self-pity of the previous summer.
Her racing thoughts were jarred by the grinding noise of the wheels lowering beneath her. Her heart quickened as touchdown approached. Almost there. Across the aisle a young couple sat, shoulders touching, holding hands. She recognized them as a couple that had boarded the plane with her in Atlanta. The young man’s hair had been shorn by an energetic barber. He wore a crisp blue gingham shirt under his navy blazer and a sweet smile as he looked into the woman’s eyes. Her blond hair was long and curled, and she wore the classic pink Lilly Pulitzer dress and matching sweater, and the ubiquitous pearls at the ears and neck. Looking up at him, she beamed. They had to be newlyweds, Carson thought. Or another in a long line of couples who came to Charleston to get married.
Like me, she thought, and the notion surprised her. This was more than a return home to Sea Breeze. She, too, was a young bride flying in to get married. Carson studied the young woman. She was in her early twenties, and fresh as a dewdrop. Utterly enamored with her beau. Is that what I should look like? Carson wondered. Brimming over with dew and sunshine?
She glanced down at her California-chic style of clothing. Faded jeans torn at the knees, a long boyfriend shirt, rows of bracelets on an arm, and strands of beads at the neck. Turquoise and silver hoops at the ears and cowboy boots on her feet. Her long dark hair was twined into a thick braid that fell over her shoulder. She hardly thought anyone would use “dew and sunshine” to describe her. To begin with, she was at least a decade older than that sweet Georgia peach. Studying her dewy-eyed expression, Carson couldn’t help but wonder if the young woman shouldn’t wait a few years before getting married. Experience more of life before settling.
After all, girls were getting married later now. She’d read that twenty-seven was the average age of today’s bride, closer to Harper’s age. In bigger cities such as New York, Washington, and Los Angeles, women were disinclined to tie the knot before they were well into their thirties. At thirty-four, Carson wasn’t completely sure she was ready even yet.
With a great thump and screeching of brakes the plane landed at Charleston International Airport, jolting Carson’s thoughts. Soon the plane was filled with the sounds of seat belts clicking and rustling as restless passengers stood and anticipated an escape from confinement and the continuation of their journeys. She felt herself awakening at the prospect of seeing Blake again. She needed to freshen up before she faced him after so long a time.
In the ladies’ room Carson stood in front of the industrial mirror under the harsh light. She saw the ravages of long hours of travel and exhaustion in the chalkiness of her skin. Her blue eyes, usually brilliant, appeared dull and bruised by the dark circles. After rinsing her face with cold water and patting it dry with paper towels, she dug into her large leather bag and pulled out her makeup. She added just enough blush to look healthy, a smattering of shadow and lip gloss. Then she untwined her braid and brushed it until it fell like glossy dark silk down her back. Blake loved her hair, liked to wrap his fist in it when he kissed her.
She stuffed everything back into her bag and straightened her shoulders.
“Dew and sunshine,” she said, feeling the bride-to-be at last. She grabbed her suitcase and strode into the corridor. When she reached the exit guard to the terminal, she heard Blake’s voice.
She swung her head toward the sound, surprised. She’d expected him to pick her up at baggage claim. But there he stood at the exit, looking very much the same tall, slender, and tanned man she’d left last fall. Over the winter his dark hair had grown longer. Thick curls amassed on his head, not yet shorn for the summer. His eyes were the color of chocolate and they were warm now, bubbling over with anticipation. When their gazes met, he lifted his hand in a boisterous wave, revealing an enormous bouquet of white roses.
All her nervousness, worries, and fatigue fled the moment she saw him. Like a light at the end of a tunnel, his gaze called to her.
Suddenly she was grinning wide, face flushed, trotting in her boots to close the distance between them. In a rush his arms were around her, holding her tight, her lips smashed against his in a devouring kiss that was filled with discovery, reconnection, and promise.