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The sun was just starting to settle over the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean. A winter’s chill was in the air with blustery winds being driven off the bay, adding a degree of thick moistness to the already bitter air. Nothing unusual for March in lower South Carolina. The streets of downtown Charleston were nowhere near as crowded as they would be in a few short months, when the throngs of Summer tourists descended upon the city. Even with the brisk temperatures, Kate could not help but enjoy this slower-paced city. She was a Charlestonian through and through. She had been born and raised here, married here, given birth to two children here, and buried her husband here. She never imagined for one second she would live anywhere else.
Her family went back for generations and Kate could not be more proud to call Charleston home. Even when the shops and restaurants were bustling with Bermuda short-clad tourists freshly off a cruise ship or the streets were nearly impassable because of horse-driven carriages filled to overflowing with sight see’ers – she still loved this old town. As frustrating as it could be at times, all those characteristics and more were what made Charleston so charming, and what gave the city it’s personality.
Mark had asked to pick her up for their evening out, but Kate insisted on meeting him at the restaurant as she planned on seeing Jillian and her granddaughter one final time before she left for England. She pulled her car into the small parking lot behind the restaurant where they were meeting. In the Summer months, she would be lucky if she found a parking spot as close as three or four blocks away. Generally, she chose to walk for that very reason when weather permitted. She placed her car in park but did not turn off the ignition, instead letting the engine idle. Glancing at the dashboard clock, she saw that she was several minutes earlier than their seven o’clock reservation. Kate rubbed her palms together. Why was she nervous? Was it nerves or just apprehension? She was a bit surprised when Mark called at the last minute to say he had changed the reservation from the normal Bistro they dined at to another, more lavish restaurant. They had never dined here in the almost five months they had been dating. Kate looked out her car window. A large and ancient oak swayed back and forth with the evening breeze. Gas-lit lanterns that were such an integral part of downtown Charleston and were found on almost every home and business front, radiated their muted glow onto the street.
She would miss this. The oaks, the old structures, the quaintness…home. She would miss the smell of the marsh after a powerful rain storm swept in from the ocean. She would miss the Lowcountry Crabcakes at her favorite restaurant, Hanks. She would even miss the somewhat silly tourists hustling and bustling about. A glance at the clock showed it was now only a few minutes before seven. She turned off the engine, grabbed her purse and headed up the aged brick walkway.
If someone were to drive by, they may not even realize this was a restaurant. Located on a small brick-covered side-street, the restaurant looked like one of downtown Charleston’s typical, old two-story homes. There were two huge front porches lit with several gas light lanterns, imploring you to come inside. The porch was lined with vintage white wicker which would normally be filled with waiting customers sipping wine or the restaurant’s custom mint juleps. A reservation here was pretty hard to attain in the Summer months. Small, fairy lights adorned boxwood shrubs, and even in the cold months, white-painted window boxes were filled with an overflowing mixture of ivy and evergreens. Come Spring, they would be bursting with magnificent color putting on a show that Charleston was known for. Kate took a deep breath, as anxious as a school girl on her first date, and walked inside.
Mark was standing just inside, as always, wearing a brilliant smile and impeccably dressed. At fifty-three, he had managed to keep his college-football physique. There was no doubt he was an incredibly good-looking man. Kate stood five foot seven and when she wore heels she felt more comfortable against his six-foot frame.
“Hello Katherine, you look beautiful tonight, as always,” he said coming towards her. He leaned and kissed her on the cheek. A suitable gentleman, she could hear her very proper and very Southern grandmother say. Mark had never been anything but gentlemanly since Kate had met him. He was one of the few people she knew on a personal basis who called her Katherine. “Why do you call me Katherine,” she asked him not long after they met, “when everyone else calls me Kate?”
“Because Katherine suits you much better,” was his simple response. Kate never questioned him again. To Mark, she was Katherine.
“This is quite a surprise,” she said looking around while removing her coat and handing it to an attendant. “I haven’t eaten here in over a year. I’m glad to see it hasn’t changed to modern decor like so many are doing these days.”
“I thought it would be a nice change of pace. I actually happened to meet the owner earlier this week. He came into the firm for some legal business, and invited me here. I said why not. I knew just the woman I could ask to join me, too,” he smiled.
“Oh, I’m sorry, did she turn you down? Is that why you asked me?” Kate joked.
“Yes, she did as a matter of fact. She gave me your number and said you were a light eater and therefor would be a cheap date, so I called,” he replied with a wry smile.
“Oh yea, well in that case I will order one of everything, and dessert, too, Mr. Big Spender.” Mark’s jovial laugh carried across the table as they were being seated. Kate felt more at ease now, more so than when she was driving here. They had always enjoyed the jovial banter between them. Her sense of humor matched his well, and she liked that about him. Kate’s eyes were immediately drawn to a bottle of champagne sitting tableside, iced in a gleaming, silver bucket and wrapped in a crisp, white napkin. A bit of apprehension snuck back into the pit of her stomach.
“Oh, champagne, how nice. What’s the special occasion?” she asked nervously. Good grief, did her voice just croak? What was she, sixteen again?
The maitre de started pouring Kate’s glass, managing to eloquently fill both glasses without spilling a single drop, and quietly left the table.
“Here’s to a wonderful evening with a beautiful woman whom I enjoy spending the evening with, even if she is my backup date.”
Kate giggled and took a sip of champagne. She made a mental note to herself that she could only have two glasses. Wait, make that one. She forgot she was driving. The restaurant was only about half full which was to be expected on a weekday night in late March. The weather had probably discouraged some from venturing out when they could be curled up next to a warm fire.
“So, how was work today?” she asked, not quite sure where to start the conversation. She was happy for the immediate effects of the champagne to calm her nerves.
“Oh, just another day in paradise as they say. Legal briefs, lawsuits, court battles. Cupcakes.”
“Cupcakes? Did you say cupcakes?”
“Yep, cupcakes. We are representing a local baker in setting up her LLC, and every time she comes in she brings these amazing and delectable cupcakes. Today she had this caramel and hazelnut concoction. Let’s just say between those cupcakes and this dinner tonight, I will have to get in an extra workout this week,” he laughed.
“Did you say cupcakes, as in more than one consumed?” she asked in jest.
“I may have eaten one – or three, I can’t remember exactly. There were no witnesses so no one can officially testify, and I rest my case. Hey, I heard they have a fabulous Chateaubriand for Two here. Chef Alex highly recommended it. How does that sound to you?”
To be honest, Kate thought it sounded heavenly but at the same time heavy. Not exactly the kind of meal she preferred to eat when she had to turn in early and wake up even earlier. How could she be so selfish and say no. “That sounds lovely, but you may have to help me out with mine tonight. I’m sure you don’t mind. What’s a few more calories after four cupcakes, right?”
“Hey, I admitted to possibly three, but I will never confess to more than that?” The waiter came by when Mark nodded his head that they were ready to order. “Chef Alex says the Chateaubriand is a must have, so that is what we will have. Katherine, would you like to order wine?”
“Oh no, thank you,” she said waving her hand over her champagne glass. “The champagne is fine.”
“Okay,” Mark said to the waiter, “we’ll stick with the champagne but I would love the tallest glass of sweet tea you have on hand, please. With lemon.”
“You do love your sweet tea, don’t you?” Kate teased.
“Yep, I am a fine Southern boy. I like pecan pie, bourbon, fine women and sweet tea,” he stated proudly with a heightened Southern drawl.
“And cupcakes. Don’t forget cupcakes.”
“You’re not going to let me forget that are you? Why do I have the feeling I will dread telling you? Maybe next week I will ask her to bring in a few extras and I will share them if you’re sweet to me.”
“Next week?” Kate repeated. “Oh, I…um…”
“I could ask her to bring them in sooner if next week is too far away,” he joshed. “Speaking of next week…I was wondering if you had some free time. I know you’re thinking about getting back into writing your book – but…”
“Next week?” Kate asked again. She was sure she definitely heard the pubescent squeak of a nervous sixteen year old girl’s voice escape her.
“Why do you keep saying ‘next week’.” he asked curiously. Kate’s cell phone buzzed in her purse. She knew it was rude to have the ringer still turned on, much less answer, but she welcomed a brief reprieve from what she knew was coming. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize my phone was still on.” She glanced at the screen and saw it was her son, David Michael. “Mark, I’m terribly sorry, it’s my son. I have been trying to get in touch with him all afternoon, would you excuse me for just one moment. I’ll only be a few minutes.”
“Sure, sure go ahead. Take your time,” he replied.
“David Michael, hello?” she answered while walking away. She made her way out to the front porch where she could have some privacy. As soon as she stepped out, she regretted doing so once the bitter, night air touched her face. She immediately shivered in response. “I tried to reach you a few times earlier in the day.”
“Hey, Mom. Sorry. Our meeting ran late and then I took the clients out for a few beers. So, what did you decide? Is that why you called?”
“I leave at 6am in the morning. Isn’t this surreal? I’m sorry I won’t see you before I go. If I had known sooner I would have driven down to Savannah to say goodbye.”
“Mom, it’s ok. We just saw each other a few weeks ago. It’s just for a few months, just like when I was in college. And we can always Skype.”
“I know, but I will still miss you. You know how the time difference makes it so hard to catch you. And Skyping isn’t quite the same. You’re my baby.”
David Michael laughed. “I know, Mom. I’m your baby. Your 24-year old baby with a full-time job and a mortgage and a car payment,” he teased.
“You know what I mean,” she replied, with a bit of sadness in her voice. “You remind me so much of your father, and he would be so proud of you.”
“He would be proud of you, too, Mom. I’m proud of you. I want you to go to England and finish your book and earn another million dollars. I have my inheritance to think about you know.”
“Well,” she laughed, “unless I negotiate my contract I doubt I will be adding that much to your inheritance.”
“I love you, Mom. Call me when you get there and get settled in, promise? And for goodness sake, watch those sneaky British men. I heard they like to seduce women with hot beer and meat pies and take advantage of them.”
“I think I can handle myself. Oh, you know where the key is if you want to come up for a weekend to get away. I told Jillian and Sam they could stay in the city whenever they wanted, and the offer stands for you, too. Just no parties, ok?” she joked.
“I promise, no wild parties. Take care and have a safe flight, Mom.”
Kate hung up the phone, hating to say good-bye. She knew she was being silly. Her children had their own lives. They were smart and successful, and what more could she ask for? She had left them for several weeks at a time when she and David traveled. This was the first trip of any length that she had taken since their father died, so maybe that is why the emotions were so raw inside of her. Kate hurried back in, chilled to the bone. Mark stood when she approached the table, as the waiter rushed to pulled out her chair.
“My apologies for taking so long, Mark. I needed to -” Kate stopped mid sentence as she sat down. There was a small white envelope sitting on Kate’s gold-rimmed charger. “What’s this?” she asked, picking it up.
“It’s a surprise, open it.” Kate’s heart sunk into her stomach a bit.
“Mark, you know I am not a big fan of surprises,” she laughed nervously, fidgeting with the envelope.
“Oh, I think you will like this one.” He reached across the table and took her other hand. “There’s something I want to ask you.”
All Kate’s mind could conjure up was “oh fiddlesticks!” Did anyone even say “fiddlesticks” any more? And why would such a silly word be the only one which popped into her head at this very moment? “This sounds serious, Mark.”
A five-star restaurant, champagne…Kate was starting to regret not canceling their date. This is not how she had hoped the evening would go. Not that she had a plan, but this definitely was not part of it.
“Mark,” she started before he could answer. “I have something I need to tell you, too.”
“Okay, but please wait. I have practiced this all day as if I were going in front of a jury. So, let me just say it okay?”
Kate nodded her head. Dread filling her core.
“Katherine, we have been dating four, almost five months now. I have gotten to know you and I care for you deeply. You’ve become a large part of my life.”
“Mark, I -“
He held up his hand. “No, please let me finish, Katherine. I know you’re still grieving for your husband. I don’t want to rush you too fast and I want to give you time, but – I’m ready to take the next step in our relationship if you will. I think you’re ready too, Katherine. Am I wrong?”
“Next…step?” Oh, Lord, please don’t let this be a marriage proposal.
“Yes, Katherine. Let’s take this another step and see where it takes us. I want to be with you. I mean with you. It’s killing me to hold you and kiss you and not be with you.”
“Oh, you mean….sex.”
“Yea, that, too. And holding you at night and waking up next to you in the morning and going away for romantic weekends. And sex,” he teased.
“I don’t know what to say.” Well, she did know what to say, but how does one say “thanks, but no thanks – I’m leaving on a jet plane at o-six hundred tomorrow morning?”
“Open the envelope, Katherine. Please.”
With jittery hands, Kate pulled back the gold seal on the plain white, linen envelope and looked inside. She glanced at Mark confused. “Go ahead. Look what’s inside, it won’t bite. I promise.”
Kate reached in and pulled out two tickets. Airline tickets. Dated for next week. She looked up, her mind filled with disbelief. How could this be happening, now of all nights.
“Read what they say, Katherine,” he encouraged. “There’s a reason I insisted on the Chateaubriand tonight,” he said in his best French accent.
Kate looked at the tickets. Paris. As in … France. As in Europe. For five days and four nights.
“Paris?” she squeaked out. “You bought airline tickets to Paris? For me and you?”
“Well, no for me and the first girl I called who couldn’t come to dinner tonight, but you’ll have to do,” he laughed. “Of course for me and you. Katherine, I can’t think of anyone else I want to go to Paris with but you. I think it’s the perfect romantic get-away for a few days and test where this relationship is going. Don’t you?”
In her mind on the way over to the restaurant, Kate had run several scenarios through her mind. She would say this and he would respond like that; or, she would say that and he would respond like this. She certainly never thought the conversation would be centered around Paris. Kate took a deep breath. She was a grown woman with children. She was a well-known writer and had traveled all over the world. But, no amount of life experiences could prepare you to hurt someone you cared for.
She placed the tickets on the starched, white tablecloth. No, she wasn’t prepared at all. Maybe she had not thought this all out thoroughly. Maybe she should have insisted on another week before she left so she could have broken the news to him easier. Or, maybe she should have talked to Mark more seriously about how she felt concerning the completion of her book, and not just a few random mentions here and there on their dates. Why did it feel as if she were breaking up with this man when he was being so kind to her? That’s the last thing she wanted to do. Another deep breath. She took a sip of her champagne, and one more sip for good measure. And she looked up into his eyes.
“Mark, we need to talk.”
Kate’s Favorite Lowcountry Crab Cakes
- 16oz fresh lump crab meat
- 1 stick butter
- 1/2 cup finely diced bell pepper
- 1/2 cup finely diced white onion
- 20 Ritz crackers, finely crushed *(1-3 more may be needed depending on moisture of mix)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tsp yellow mustard
- 3 Tbs mayonnaise
- 1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp grated horseradish
- 2 Tbs fresh chopped Parsley
- 1/2 tsp lemon juice
- Check to make sure there are no crab shell pieces in the crab meat. In a small skillet on medium heat, melt butter then saute chopped bell pepper and chopped onions until done. In a small bowl, add crab meat and beaten egg, stir well. Add crushed Ritz crackers to crab meat/egg mixture and stir well. Add sauteed vegetables, fresh parsley, and remaining ingredients and stir well. Mixture should be moist. If mixture is too moist and is not binding well, add 2-3 more crushed crackers.
- Scoop crab mixture into your hand and make cakes approximately 3" round and about 1" thick. I prefer to slightly brown my crabcakes on both sides in a skillet with butter, then and bake on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes. Time will vary depending on size of the crab cake but should be around 8-10 minutes. Do not overcook or they will dry out.
- Serve with lemon slices and homemade remoulade sauce.