Peter stood on the pavilion steps overlooking
Sylvan Creek watching as it gurgled and swirled
along between its steep, grassy banks. The slight
breeze that blew across the park in the center of
the small Florida city stirred the leaves of the tall
oaks that covered most of the park, and gray
squirrels jumped from branch to branch and scurried
across the open, grassy areas. He could hear the
chirping of birds and the incongruent sound of traffic
along Sylvan Creek Circle, the busy street that
defined the perimeter of what was known by locals
as simply “Circle Park”.
Here and there on painted wooden benches,
people were sitting in pairs talking or singly
enjoying the freshness of the late summer air. Over
by the pavilion there was a small group of old men
playing chess or dominoes on the cement picnic
tables that were haphazardly arranged at the
creek’s edge. It wasn’t a huge park, but then
Sylvan Creek wasn’t a huge city. It had grown by
leaps and bounds in the last few decades, but it still
possessed its small town personality.
Although he had only been in this city for a
scant two weeks, he loved it. The people who
passed him on the sidewalks as he explored the
commercial district that surrounded the park were
friendly, always smiling and saying hello or giving a
friendly nod. Being from a large city in the northeastern part of the country, he wasn’t used to seeing so many smiling faces. Rarely had he received even a nod, let alone a hello when he walked anywhere in Boston. Most people looked away or straight ahead and pretended not to see anyone as they hurried on their way. Everyone was always in a rush to get from here to there, and he had been like that, too. His successful law firm had kept him so busy he didn’t have time to stop and listen to the birds.
Peter descended the steps of the pavilion and cut across the grass to the old wooden bridge that crossed over the creek. The traffic was light as he took the crosswalk from the park to the corner of East Hibiscus and Sylvan Creek Circle and sauntered along the sidewalk to the house he had rented. The bottom floor had already been converted to offices with a reception area and waiting room that stretched all the way across the front half of the bottom floor, but the beauty of the southern style house hadn’t been spoiled. With a porch that wrapped around three sides and a long-established hedge that lined both sides of the walkway and steps, it seemed the perfect place to open his one-lawyer office. It had that relaxed feeling he wanted to establish with his clients as he practiced family law in this seemingly laidback south central Florida town. For now he’d live in the upstairs apartment above his office, at least until he’d built up a clientele that would support him. He’d come to Florida with big dreams and enough money to make them come true, but he was a wise steward of his assets and so decided to wait a while before thinking about buying a house or condo. Besides, why buy a nice big place in which to live when he had no one with whom to share it? He still missed his wife, Julia, who had succumbed to breast cancer five years before and hadn’t met anyone who could fill her shoes or his bed. Nobody he knew up north would believe Peter could be this serene and relaxed, especially in such a small and relatively quiet place as Sylvan Creek. At the ripe old age of thirty-seven, he had decided it was time for a change from the staid, boring life he led as one of the best divorce lawyers in Boston and one of the most eligible bachelors; he was so tired of being invited to parties just to discover that the hostess was either evening the number at the table or worse - matchmaking. Peter didn’t look his age and he’d been called everything from handsome to “hot”, but he didn’t see that when he looked in the mirror. Still, his suave looks and friendly personality would stand him in good stead when he opened his office. Tall and physically fit, he wore his sandy blonde hair short enough to be professional but long enough for his natural curl to have free reign. Although somewhat pale from so many long hours at his office or in court, his was the kind of complexion that would soon turn the bronzed tone of a native Southerner. His eyes were blue and could be friendly and hospitable, sensual and enticing or fierce and stern, depending on the circumstances. There were quite a few law firms in Sylvan Creek since it was the county seat for Grisholm County, but he knew he could carve himself a piece of the pie. As he took the steps two at a time from the sidewalk to the porch and dug in his pocket for the key to his front door, he mentally congratulated himself for finding such a great location just around the corner from the courthouse where he’d be doing most of his legal work. In fact, he almost felt like thanking the woman for whom he’d made this gigantic change in his life…but only almost. To assuage his loneliness during the past year or so he had started playing around with his computer, visiting dating sites and chat rooms. When he’d started, he thought it a humorous and harmless distraction. He even discovered that he could do karaoke online and had been amazed that he liked it and could actually carry a tune with his rich, deep baritone. Then he met Carla. She made him feel sensual and sexual for the first time since he’d lost Julia, and after a few months he was convinced he had fallen in love. Her photograph had convinced him even more. Long blonde hair, blue eyes, a pleasant smile, and a lush and rounded body just waiting to be caressed…that was Carla. She had shown him how hot “Net Sex” could be, and he finally decided to combine his desire for a new life and his desire for Carla by moving to Florida and surprising her when he knocked on her door. Sitting down in one of the freshly painted wooden rocking chairs his landlord had seen fit to leave on the porch for him, his mind drifted back, remembering their first face-to-face encounter vividly. Had it only been a couple of weeks ago? Peter stood nervously on the sidewalk in front of Parkview Condominiums, his palms sweaty and his heart rate elevated. He had arrived in Sylvan Creek a couple of hours ago and checked into Seven Oaks Inn, the historic old hotel a block away from Carla’s condo. It was love at first sight when he’d seen the town and the beautiful tree-covered park in its center, and he hoped like hell he’d feel the same about Carla. He’d already made up his mind, though, that either way it went with her, Sylvan Creek was his new home. Stalling for time, he stood in front of the Parkview Condominiums and admired the stately building’s design. Each ground floor apartment had an enclosed patio with a white wrought iron gate leading to the sidewalk. The second and third floor apartments had their own balconies surrounded by white wrought iron railings. The corner apartments on each floor had larger patios and balconies that wrapped around the corners of the building. The architect must have been a Libra because the frontal view of the structure was a study of balance and symmetry. Mentally berating himself for acting like a silly teenager, he walked up the short walkway, opened one of the big wooden front doors and entered the lobby. Along the wall to his right, two large fan-backed wicker chairs were arranged with a small wicker table between them. Behind them was a four-panel carved wood oriental screen and at each end of the screen potted palms formed a frame for the idyllic sitting area. On the wall to his left was an elevator and next to it he noted the rows of locked mailboxes, each with a placard that bore the apartment number and name of a Parkview resident. In his hurry to get there, he’d left Carla’s address in his briefcase at the hotel, but he was pretty sure it was Apartment 121. Looking more closely at the mailboxes, he noticed that several of them didn’t have names on their placards. Just his luck…121 had no name on it. He looked at the boxes above it, and 221 had no name. The placard for apartment 321 said “Paul and Mary Shultz.” There were several glass-topped tables with chairs around each in the center at the far side of the large room. The subdued pastels of the hibiscus print fabrics on the sofas and chairs that were grouped to form conversation areas against each of the side walls added to the tropical theme that was further enhanced by grass cloth wall coverings. All of the furniture was rattan with wicker trim, and it was obvious that the original interior design team had been given a huge budget to give this now slightly aging condominium the class and charm its wealthy occupants would expect. Several potted palms of varying size and type were arranged in each corner of the back wall which was constructed of glass panels, and a set of glass doors opened to the parking area and pool behind the building. At one of the tables, four older women were engrossed in a lively game of bridge; the lobby obviously doubled as the residents’ community center. He liked the comfortable feel of the place. Glancing at the hallway entrances, he noted that Apt. 121 was down the hallway to his right. He thought about asking one of the card-playing ladies which apartment Carla lived in but felt a bit foolish. He took a big breath and letting it out slowly to calm his nerves, turned into the wide hallway and walked until he stood at the door of what he hoped was Carla’s place. Pausing a moment, he thought of the lovely face in her picture online and the sexy voice when they talked on the phone, and his heart sped up. He pressed the doorbell. Too late to change his mind now, he stood waiting. “Just a minute,” a soft feminine voice called from the other side of the door. A moment or so later he heard the slide of the chain lock and the door opened. He was taken aback. Sitting there on the other side of the threshold was a lady in a wheelchair. Her hair was dark brown, not blonde, and her eyes…damn, her eyes were the clearest light green he’d ever seen with tiny specks of gold around the pupils and radiating outward toward the edges of the irises. Her face was oval shaped with an aquiline nose and high cheekbones that bespoke her native American heritage and showed just a hint of blush, and her lips were slightly full and touched with a light peach gloss; she was absolutely the loveliest woman he’d ever seen. “Yes? May I help you?” she asked, a wary expression on her face as she looked up at him. “Oh…excuse me. I think I have the wrong apartment. Are you Carla Spattle?” adding in his head, “Please be Carla…Please!” He was pretty sure it wasn’t, though, because she looked nothing like the photo he’d seen. “No, I’m not Carla. She lives on the second floor, I think. In fact, I’m sure she’s in the apartment directly above me because I often hear her singing when I have my patio doors open. I think she does karaoke on the computer…” Realizing she was babbling, she stopped and stared into the man’s face. “Wow”, she thought. “Lucky Carla!” “Oh, okay. Well, my name is Peter Golden, and yours?” he asked, not wanting to leave her yet. “I’m Chandra, but my friends call me Sunny.” She took the hand he offered and gave it a brief shake. Now why did she give this total stranger her name, she wondered. “Nice to meet you, Chandra. Perhaps in time you allow me to call you Sunny,” he smiled. “I’m new in town, fresh out of Boston so you’ll hear me saying ‘Pahk the cah’ and ‘take a bahth’ until I can get rid of this Northern accent.” Not usually a very talkative person, he couldn’t seem to shut up now and was becoming a bit self-conscious. “Well, I guess I should go looking for Carla. Nice meeting you, Chandra, and I hope I have the good fortune of seeing you again.” Chandra smiled and closed her door as he turned back toward the lobby. “God, that was corny,” he thought. “She’s going to think I’m a snobbish Yankee prig.” Her soft, lilting voice had told him she was from…well definitely not from the Northeast. Back in the lobby, he took the elevator to the second floor and headed down the hall toward apartment 221. As Peter approached the apartment, he heard the muffled sounds of a voice singing. He recognized that song and that voice and was sure that this time he’d found Carla. He hadn’t told his associates in Boston or, for that matter his family, that he sang and chatted online. They would have laughed at him, and he’d never have lived it down. He had been told by many – mostly women – online that he was an excellent singer. In fact, in the months he and Carla had been internet friends then lovers, they had done virtual concerts together. Singing was one of the things he liked most about Carla, right up there next to how sexy her voice was and how sensual her text was when they got playful in private chats. Forgetting for the moment about the lady he’d just met by accident, he began to get excited…his love was on the other side of that door! He rang the doorbell and waited. The singing stopped and a familiar voice said, “Hold your horses, I’m comin’.” A moment later, the door swung open and… “Oh lord, that can’t be Carla,” Peter thought as he stared at the woman. “Can I help ya, mister?” the woman asked. “Are you Carla?” “Who’s askin’?” she replied. “Oh, sorry. Excuse my rudeness. I’m Peter Golden, otherwise known as the B-town Loverboy.” He stood there and watched as a huge grin spread across the woman’s face. “Oh my gawd!!! Is it really YOU?” she exclaimed, throwing her arms around him and enveloping him in a hug. “I never thought you’d really come!” After a full minute of squeezing him so hard he could barely breathe, she let go and stepped back. Looking down at her old, pink chenille bath robe and worn out terrycloth slippers, she blushed. “You’ve caught me at my worst, sweetheart, but come on in!” Peter was in shock. With no make-up and her hair in curlers, Carla didn’t look much like the glamorous photo she’d sent him. It was too bad smells couldn’t be sent through the net; she smelled of old sweat and cigarettes, and maybe a touch of gin. Although he was sure it was the same woman, she looked at least ten years older and thirty pounds heavier. Not that he minded a bit of meat on his women, but he’d expected a bit less on her. “Maybe it’s just the robe,” he thought. She tried to give him a kiss, but he turned and gave her his cheek, sure he’d pass out from her breath if she kissed him. Bringing himself back to the present, Peter sighed. That first day had been a disaster as far as he and Carla were concerned. He felt let down, but in a way, curiously relieved that he wasn’t in love with her at first sight, but she hadn’t wanted to take no for an answer when she asked him to move in with her right away. He’d hemmed and hawed, telling her he had to get his law office open and get settled and that he’d call her in the next day or two. Disappointment turned to rage when she realized that he really wasn’t going to stay. Her angry words still rung in his head: “What’s the problem, Yankee boy? Carla not good enough for you out here in the real world? You know, people warned me about you, but I didn’t listen. They said you were a fly-by-night, come-and-go player, but I thought I saw more!” He’d tried to soothe her ruffled feathers but it seemed hopeless, so he’d excused himself and left. To his amazement, a clay pot complete with flowers had crashed to the cement just behind him as he’d hurried away along the sidewalk in front of the condo building. Looking up, he’d seen Carla leaning against her balcony railing, and the look on her face convinced him that he’d encountered a lunatic. Peter hadn’t bothered to tell Carla that his other online friends had warned him about her, too, and that he hadn’t listened either. Even when she’d pause for a few minutes between comments while they were texting in a chat room, he’d assumed that she’d left her computer for a quick potty break or to get a snack. He remembered one particular chat when she had typed in another nickname instead of his in a very steamy message. She’d given him some excuse about being so hot for him her hands had had a brain fart, and he actually bought it. What a love-sick, oversexed fool he’d been, and he could see that now. He was ashamed that he’d allowed her to tease him into having net sex, which he hadn’t been interested in doing before, and that he’d actually loved it. In lieu of finding a real life woman to date, he’d become addicted to the sexual satisfaction he found with her text or her voice as the catalyst. She’d been so smooth and so creative with her sexual conversation, in text as well as on the telephone that he should have seen the truth. In retrospect, he realized that she was too good at it to be the ingénue she’d claimed to be. “Well,” Peter muttered to himself, “what a damn fool I’ve been. I guess it’s not a total loss, though, because I found this town, and maybe, just maybe, someday Chandra will let me call her Sunny.” He stood and turned, walking over to unlock the front door. The key turned easily in the deadbolt and he let himself into the dark, slightly shabby-looking front room of his new abode. He made a mental note to repaint the walls a much lighter color and remove the long, faded curtains from the narrow windows on each side of the door. In fact, he decided that before opening his office he’d do a bit of painting and refurbishing all over the bottom floor. Although it would be foolish to spend a great deal of money on a rented office, he knew he wanted a more cheerful décor in which to work. He was sure his clients would appreciate that, too. The antique furnishings he’d shipped from Boston would work well in the place, but he wanted to integrate a Florida feel. His only real problem was that he knew nothing about interior décor and had never really been interested in learning. Perhaps he should contact an interior designer, at least for the initial planning. He could afford it, so why not? Besides, he could use a few business deductions for next year’s income taxes. That wouldn’t be a problem next year, he was sure, as he doubted he could match the seven-figure income he was used to in Boston, nor would he have to offset the generous but slightly lower than true value buy-out his partner Patrick Pike had paid him. He made a mental note to start looking for a designer, and in the margin of the mental note pad he wrote “$1,500.00 or less.” That problem resolved, he passed through the double wooden doors into his office and then climbed the stairs to his apartment.