Two black swans paddled in a reflecting pond flanked by giant weeping willows, magnolias and blossoming cherry trees, their elegant necks arched in graceful curves. Pale pink petals from the cherry trees floated on the surface of the water, blown by the afternoon breeze. A sudden gust sent hundreds of pieces of nature’s confetti flying, swirling around us like a rosy, fragrant cloud, several of which became caught in my hair. Laughing, Ian paused and gently plucked it from my tangled curls. This absolutely cannot be real, I thought. Things like this don’t happen outside pages of books or reels of films.
We had spent an hour and a half exploring the antebellum plantation and its grounds before Ian asked in his thick Australian accent, “Is there anythin’ else yu’d like ta’ see?”
Yes, I’d like to see you naked in my hotel room, I thought. But instead of voicing my thoughts I demurely shook my head no. We strolled to the parking lot, our arms swinging, occasionally brushing against each other. Watching him fold into the small rental made me acutely aware of his size. Even with the driver’s seat all the way back his knees grazed the dashboard.
He started the engine, looked over at me and asked with a chuckle, “Where to, m’lady?”
“I have several gardens and homes still to see in the downtown area. You’re welcome to join me if you don’t have other plans.”
His broad smile warmed me like a shot of smooth whiskey. “Na, I’ve got na’ plans.”
Encapsuled in the compact car, the nearness was palatable, but we talked of the expected things—what he did for a living, what I did for a living, where we grew up, films we’d both seen. Neither of us asked if the other was in a relationship. On the surface we were both relaxed, as if setting out on an afternoon jaunt with a total stranger was completely normal, but inside both my mind and heart were racing.
I looked up and we had arrived. He parked along the wharf. The salty scent of the sea filled my nostrils as we strolled down the sidewalk beside the water. I kept glancing up at him thinking, is this really happening? I didn’t even know this man’s last name!
We purchased tickets to the first home tour and quietly slipped in with the twenty or so others intrigued by history. As we strolled from room to room, I tried to pay attention to the aproned host who was educating her group with the seriousness of the wise, spectacled owl she resembled, but concentrating was so difficult when almost every time I looked Ian’s way I caught him watching me. You have to get a hold of yourself, I thought as we ascended to the second story of the old mansion.
“You have to touch this wood,” he whispered, running his large hand along the antique mahogany banister as he followed me up the curving staircase. I glanced back and, with a wicked sideways smile, whispered back, “I hardly think we’ve known each other long enough for that.”
The look he gave me—equal parts shock and amusement—was worth the risk of the innuendo. In a manner of speaking I had just fired the first shot over the bow. His return fire remained quelled, for the time being.