By C.H. Conley
As his hair whipped his face, Jack realized life was not only running him, it was running over him. He brushed the blonde strands from his eyes and wondered when everything became so chaotic that he couldn’t even find time for a haircut. Something had to give.
Jack managed to extract himself from the Washington, DC traffic and was now cruising Virginia’s back roads. The sun poured through the convertible’s open top as he drew in a slow, deep breath. His chest expanded as he pulled in another deeper, more satisfying breath. On the exhale he let out a deliberate sigh. Releasing his next breath he groaned and then found himself releasing a guttural scream, belying all the pain he had been forcing down to be dealt with one day. That day had come.
Two hours earlier Jack faced the mirror and saw nothing of the man he once was. Instead, he only saw sadness and confusion reflected in his eyes. That was his moment of truth. He had decisions to make and a life to figure out. Addressing his reflection, he said, “Jack, old boy, this is it. You know what you want, you are a winner, you know how to achieve any goal you desire. You take no prisoners; you see, you conquer! It is time to stop living for everyone else and start living your own damn life! Start today! No, start now!” And the decision was made. Jack threw a few things into his overnight bag, called the office to cancel his appointments, and walked out the door.
Atlanta, Georgia. To Jack it was the logical destination and where things made the most sense. Jack was raised outside of Atlanta and the love of his life lived in Atlanta proper. It was Jack’s connection to the happier, simpler life of his past. That connection, coupled with the long drive would give Jack the time and clarity he needed.
Five hours into his trip, the rumble of his empty stomach roused Jack from his thoughts and he made a requisite pit stop just outside of Greensboro, North Carolina. He was in a hurry to get to Atlanta, but it had been far too long since he enjoyed some good Southern hospitality and barbeque. He stepped into Lennie’s BBQ and was greeted—just as he expected—with a cheerful, “Hey there, welcome to Lennie’s!” For the first time in recent memory, a smile lifted the edges of Jack’s mouth. The grit of big-city living was starting to fall away.
With his belly filled, it was time to get back on the road. First he had a call to make. Jack turned on his cell phone, ignored the twenty-five messages from his law firm’s office, and instead dialed a familiar Georgia number. When she answered, Jack fought the lump in his throat and tried to sound casual. “Hi Katie, have you got a minute?” He briefly explained that he was headed to Atlanta to see her and was relieved when she responded with enthusiasm. They agreed to meet for lunch the next day. For the second time that day a smile spread across his face. As he pulled onto the highway, he said to himself, “Jack, you’re really not the hard-assed cynic you thought you’d become, are you?”
During the extended drive, Jack chased the thoughts that roamed the caverns of his mind. He shed light on many; dismissed others; found answers to some; and knew, without a shadow of a doubt, how he would handle the thought that brought him on this road trip. He was just an hour from Atlanta when he noticed a sign reading Bakerville, Exit 5 Miles. For some reason, he felt compelled to exit the highway at Bakerville.
Jack had been making this trip for ten years. Each time he wondered what Bakerville had to offer, yet never took time to find out. He chuckled aloud when he recognized that was exactly the way he lived his life—identify the destination and take the shortest, least complicated path. However, today was the beginning of a new era and he slowed to exit at Bakerville. This change of routine was exactly what he was seeking.
Jack crossed the by-pass and expected to find another typical traveler’s pit-stop sort of town—the type heralded by half-dozen gas stations, a Walmart, Subway and sundry other one-stop shops. Instead, a quiet tree-lined residential street greeted him. The shade of the trees was a welcome respite to the Georgia sun that had been his driving companion all afternoon. As he followed the winding street into town, a sense of calm settled through him, the likes of which he hadn’t felt in years. Bakerville was a town straight from a Rockwellesque painting with tall pastel-colored homes with white gingerbread trim and wide porches, dogs sunning on lush lawns, kids on wooden tree swings and mothers strolling behind old-fashioned baby carriages. Jack thought for a moment he might have had a mental breakdown or entered a time warp—things just weren’t at all like what he was used to. A mere nine hours from Washington, Jack felt he was entering a different continent.
As he rolled to a stop at what appeared to be the town’s only traffic light, a gust of wind ruffled Jack’s hair and blew wisteria blossoms into his car; Jack looked around for the source of the blossoms and noticed they came from an arched opening to a white picket fence. A wooden sign swaying in the breeze caught his eye. Destiny Inn—a Southern Bed & Breakfast was scrolled in gold lettering across the pristine white background. Beneath that, “A nice place to put the past to rest and awake to your future.” As Jack read the sign, nearby wind chimes tinkled their delicate song. Jack chuckled and said, “Of course.” With no other cars around, Jack let the light turn from green back to red while he surveyed beyond the fence, up the alyssum-lined sidewalk and let his gaze settle upon the curving front porch of the big gray house. Jack was mesmerized; the stately white columns seemed like silent doormen beckoning him. For the second time that day, he had a strange compulsion to follow his gut.
Jack circled the block and parked in front of the Destiny Inn. This definitely was not part of his plan, but he wanted a closer look.
He unlatched the gate and ducked under the wisteria-covered archway. He stopped part way up the sidewalk and drank in the magnificence of the house before him. Most enthralling was the exquisite stained glass door. A regal peacock spanned the double-door entryway and Jack was surprised he hadn’t noticed it from the road; now he watched sunbeams dance off the bright greens and blues, creating an effervescence that brought the entire house to life. Despite the size and grandeur of the house, it exuded a warm cottage charm.
Jack approached the door with curious anticipation. He wanted to see the interior of the house, meet its proprietor, learn its history, and most importantly, see if he could understand his reason for feeling drawn to the house. As he raised his hand to knock, the door was suddenly pulled open. Standing before him was a petite elderly woman with a beaming smile. “Welcome to Destiny! Please, come in.” she said with a sugary-sweet Southern drawl.
Surprised by her sudden appearance, Jack managed to stammer, “Well…sure. Thank you.”
He followed the woman into the great room, or parlor as he believed it was called, and was pleasantly surprised. He imagined the house would be filled with dark colors and Victorian-era furnishings. Instead, the room was overflowing with life. Soft yellow walls served as a background for flowery chintz fabrics, inviting furnishings and animated artwork. There was a whimsical cheerfulness to the room, not at all what Jack had expected. The delicate smell of summer flowers wafted through the air, complements of the large vases overflowing with fresh daisies, freesia and daylilies. A plump orange cat lounged on a window seat and soft jazz filtered in from a distant room. Jack had never experienced such a warm, inviting presence in a home before and he could only identify it as an immediate sense of belonging.
“Hello, I’m Anna Capshaw,” said the woman as she offered her delicate hand to Jack, “Welcome!”
“Thank you. What a lovely home! I’m Jack Jennings; pleased to meet you.” As he took her extended hand, Jack swore he felt a tingle run up his arm.
“Jack. That’s a good solid name. Where are you traveling from?”
“I’m originally from Georgia, but currently living in Washington, DC. You know, rat-race-central?” He let out a chuckle, but it was anything but a laughing matter to him.
“Oh, of course, I have certainly heard of that place! What brings you to our humble little B&B?” Anna asked.
“I just happened upon it and had to get a closer look. It is beautiful. And it certainly is not humble, although I would say it is charming.” Jack paused before tentatively asking, “I know this may be presumptuous, but I wondered, since it is an inn, would you allow this curiosity hound to take a peek?”
“Well, Jack, I might be able to arrange that. I tell you what, I was about to take my supper on the veranda; won’t you join me? I do love company, especially at meal time.”
“Oh no, that would be such an imposition. I couldn’t.” Jack replied, hoping he adequately disguised his true longing to stay, at least enough that he did not appear desperate.
“No imposition at all. You’re in the straight-talkin’ South now and you should know if I didn’t want your company, I wouldn’t have extended the invitation. It isn’t every day I meet someone living in our country’s hot seat. So, it’s settled, you’ll join me for supper and then you’ll get your tour!”
Anna spoke kindly, but emphatically, and her sincerity convinced Jack to stay. “It is my pleasure Ms. Capshaw. What can I do to help?”
“Posh!” With a quick wave of her hand, she continued, “You just go find a comfy seat out on the veranda and I’ll be right out. Everything’s already prepared and I’ll manage just fine. You do like lemonade and chicken salad, don’t you, Jack?” It was more a statement than a question, followed by a command, “And, I’m not Ms. Capshaw to you, I’m Anna.”
Jack was beguiled by this sprite Southerner and her home. He managed a quick, “Chicken salad sounds great!” before Anna disappeared into the kitchen. He stepped out into the warm fresh air and stood taking in his surroundings. Was it his imagination, or were the birds’ songs lighter and more cheerful here? He moved down the veranda to the wicker rocker and sank into its plentiful cushion. Breathing deeply he said out loud, “Ahhhhh, this is the life I could get used to!”
“Excuse me? What was it you were saying, Jack?” Anna appeared, carrying a tray of chicken salad croissants and ice-cold, freshly squeezed lemonade. In true Southern tradition, she served Jack before taking her seat and her own meal.
“I was just saying this is such a relaxing, pleasant place. Just what the doctor ordered for me!” Jack replied.
“Oh dear, Jack, are you ill?”
Her sincerity took Jack by surprise. “Not at all. Well, you know, not physically ill anyway. I have a lot of confusion in my life these days and need to get my head cleared out. Do you know what I mean?” He surprised himself with his candor; he hoped it wasn’t off-putting to Anna.
Anna took a bite of her sandwich, washed it down with a long drink of lemonade then said, “Jack, I do know what you mean. I am glad you came here today. Are you planning on staying over night?”
The question caught him off guard as he realized he hadn’t consciously given it any thought, but found himself wanting to say yes. “I am headed to Atlanta, I have a lunch meeting tomorrow. Besides, I don’t have a reservation.” He tried to sound indifferent, but some part of him hoped she would insist he stay.
“Actually, Jack, most people come here without reservations so I am quite used to pop-in guests. And, from the looks of it,” she said looking around with exaggerated gestures, “people aren’t clamoring for rooms today! I have a room—my favorite room of the house—made up. I know you’ll be pleased with it. Now, eat up and when you’re finished, I’ll give you that tour and share the history of my home with you. Then you can let me know if you’ll be staying.”
Jack found himself warming to his hostess. He studied this embodiment of true Southern women: charming, yet commanding; non-assuming, yet powerful; and smart, yet with a certain naiveté. He adored Southern women, and there was one Southern woman he adored more than any other. Pulling himself out of his reverie, he replied, “Wonderful! I can’t wait to hear all about Destiny Inn. I bet there is great history, and probably an interesting story about its name. There is so much warmth and character here. I want to know where that originated!” As they ate, he spoke a little about his life. He shared with Anna that he moved from Atlanta to Washington ten years ago and had a meteoric climb with one of the leading law firms. It was a career he loved at first, but over time it began to take a toll. He sacrificed much, including the loss of his longtime true love. Sacrifices that advanced his career, but killed his spirit, and nobody seemed to care. The tipping point came this morning as he stared at an unrecognizable man in his mirror.
“Anna, I bought into the game. In the course of defending clients, I compromised my integrity and values. If a man cannot define himself by his character, who is he? This trip, this sabbatical from that life back in DC, is my chance to sort it out and make a few things right.”
Anna heard the wistfulness in Jack’s voice and simply replied, “It’s good to sort things out.” They entered a comfortable silence as they finished their dinner.
Anna took Jack’s empty plate and placed it on the tray, alongside her own. “Now, let me clear this and then I’ll show you around.” She disappeared into the house and returned saying, “This is my childhood home, Jack. I moved away once, when I was twenty-five years old, but I was never truly happy away from here. It kept calling to me and fate returned me home. That, Jack, is why I named her Destiny. There are some things in life that just are meant to be…being here is one of them.”
“I think I’m beginning to believe that, too” he replied.
They followed the porch around to the side of the house before descending the wide stairs to the back yard. Jack was tempted to ask a million questions, but sensed Anna would tell him what he longed to hear, on her own terms. He walked along beside Anna and listened to her tale.
“Destiny was built in 1922, the year my parents married. My mother and father had a seven-year courtship. During that time, they often talked of their future together and my mother set out every detail of her dream home. Unbeknownst to my mother, my father took the information she shared about her dream home and recorded it in a journal. After he proposed and she said yes, he was certain of their future together in her dream home. He engaged an architect, had the plans drawn up and had the home built for mother. It was his wedding gift to her. Can you imagine that, Jack? My father loved my mother fiercely, and vice versa. My mother also loved this house. It was perfectly suited for its owner.” Jack noticed a tear forming in Anna’s eye, but she cleared her throat and continued, in true Southern woman fashion.
“They married and lived in this home their entire lives. Other than a few mechanical and cosmetic updates, there have been no changes. My mother knew, without a doubt, the home she wanted. I feel her presence in every inch of this place. I’m sure that is the character you, and others, feel. I think in part, that was what led me back home.” Anna turned, “Let me show you the garden.”
Jack had so many questions and was about to speak when they reached the garden, but the sight of it caused him to lose his thought. “Amazing! You have a remarkable green thumb, or a legion of gardeners? There must be at least a hundred rose bushes. It is stunning!” He turned to face Anna, and for a brief moment he thought he saw a flash of sadness before her smile crinkled the corners of her eyes.
“This is one of my passions. No legion of gardeners here! There are one-hundred and fourteen rose bushes in the formal garden and twenty-seven along that back wall there. My mother and I used to tend this garden when I was a child and I learned my love of gardening from her. There’s nothing as satisfying as tending a plant and watching it reward you with such a beautiful gift,” she said with the loving devotion of a true gardener.
“With all these beautiful flowers, aren’t you tempted to fill the house with roses? I didn’t notice any, but you must have some somewhere?” Jack asked.
“Oh no, no! Only on very special occasions do I cut a few single blooms. I love this garden and see it as a living canvas. When I finish working out here, I stand back and enjoy the scene. From one perspective, it seems consistent, and then upon deeper examination, you realize the ever-changing quality of it. I prefer to study it, like a beloved painting. And, just like a painting, I don’t want bits of it—or copies, if you will—in each room. I want one perfect place and when I get a chance to study it, I appreciate it, as well as the mood it sets and the feelings I take away from the experience as a whole. Does that make sense?”
Nodding his agreement, Jack said, “You’re right. I never thought of it like that. I do agree…seeing this garden spread out before me is a more rewarding experience than a spot of color from a few cut flowers in a vase. My fiancée, well, my ex-fiancée, loves gardening. Roses are her favorite and I used to help her keep her garden. It seems like a lifetime ago, though.”
“You know, Jack, people spend so much time trying to avoid getting dirty that we forget the wonders of the soil. Sometimes we have to put our hands into the earth to remember the essence of our lives. I’ve often had guests who enjoy working in here more than anything else. Feel free to work in the garden, if you’d like, Jack. The tools are there by the shed.” With a nod of her head, Anna indicated where Jack would find the tools to reconnect with his soul.
“I might just take you up on that offer, but now I’d love to see the rest of the house if I may?” He knew he would find himself kneeling in the garden, one day.
“Certainly. There isn’t much else out here to see. The carriage house was added in 1945 and other than my car and tools, there’s nothing in there now. However, see that pecan tree there?” she asked, pointing to a tree surrounded by a little brick courtyard. “My father planted that June 3, 1930, the day I was born. It bears the sweetest pecans in all of Georgia, just ask anyone!”
Jack got a chuckle out of seeing Anna’s cheeks turn pink with her unbridled claim. Partly because he wanted to goad her, and partly because he simply wanted to know, he asked, “Do you make a mean pecan pie? That is my favorite pie in the entire universe!” He could almost taste the warm pecans surrounded by the sweet sticky filling and flaky crust.
Feigning modesty, Anna replied, “I do all right. I have one on the counter now, as a matter of fact. I freeze my pecans so I can bake my pies year-round. We’ll have pie and coffee later, now let’s finish this little tour.” Anna slipped her arm in Jack’s and let him escort her across the yard.
They entered the back of the house through a large screened-porch. Jack remarked, “I have always loved a screened porch. They’re the best of both worlds. I could sit here for hours with a good book and a glass of wine. Why don’t they put them on new houses? This is a piece of architectural Americana I would love to see come back in vogue.”
As Jack surveyed the screened porch, Anna said, “Just like all things, people don’t realize how wonderful they are until you’ve experienced it firsthand. Nothing like the pleasure of enjoying a summer night sleeping in a screened porch! I used to coerce my mother into baking chocolate chip cookies and then “camping out” on the porch with me all night. She would sing and tell me stories and we would giggle until I cried. Porches make great memories.”
Jack found himself getting misty eyed as Anna led the way to the kitchen. “Here we are at the kitchen. I love baking in here; there is so much natural light and open space. If you notice, Jack, this kitchen looks almost like the big modern kitchens in new homes. I’ve replaced the appliances and a few cosmetic items, but the layout is original. Actually, that holds true for the entire house.”
The open floor plan and marble-topped center island were ahead of their time. Jack observed, “It is very current day. Either we’re finally getting wise to the styles of the past or your mother was before her time.”
Heading toward the dining room, Anna continued her history narrative, “My mother was a visionary, in the truest sense.” Jack noticed a little smirk cross her face as she spoke and figured there must be a fond memory associated with her remark.
The light reflecting the jewel-tones of the stained glass transoms caught Jack’s eye. “Are those part of the original house?” he asked. “They’re very unique and absolutely beautiful.”
“The were added between 1930 and 1952—between my birth date and wedding day. My mother made each of them. She was self-taught and actually became one of the most widely respected artisans in the South during her time. Some of her pieces are in the Smithsonian, you know? And, of course, she made the front door. It took her five years to complete it. The length of time I was married.” Sighing, Anna cocked her head to catch the last glimmer of sunlight reflecting on the peacock’s feathers.
The tenderness and admiration Anna had in her voice each time she spoke of her mother touched Jack. Wanting to acknowledge her memory, he said “It’s wonderful to have such personal reminders of her in your daily life.”
They continued the tour of the downstairs with Anna pointing out the hand-carved banister and mantle, the elaborate plaster crown moldings and ornate doors with their glass knobs. The architecture was stunning, but the details were what gave the house such character. As they entered a tidy office, Anna motioned to Jack to take a seat.
“Jack, Destiny is a very, very special place. Let me tell you a little about how it became mine.” She sat up on the edge of her chair, leaning toward Jack and said, “My daddy was a banker, then he got into the oil business. He worked long hours, just as you do, so my mother and I spent a great deal of time together. When I was twenty, daddy introduced me to one of his worthy bank employees, Ronald Capshaw. We dated, fell head-over-heals in love and married when I was twenty-two. A few years later, daddy decided to open a second oil field and refinery down in Texas and he chose Ronald to run it. We moved to Littleville, Texas and were miserable. However, just like you, Ronald did what had to be done to make the operation a success. That meant I spent most of my time alone. I think I cried non-stop for six months! My mother and I wrote lengthy letters back and forth, and in each one she always tried to reassure me and ended each letter saying, ‘One day, my dearest, you will return home where your true heart is, and from there you will never again stray.’ Anna took a deep breath and with shaky voice she continued, “Finally, she couldn’t stand me being away so she accompanied daddy on one of his trips to check out the operation. We spent a few days visiting, shopping, dining, and just enjoying one another’s company. While at dinner one night, a neighbor stopped by to chat at our table. Daddy and Ronald began talking about the business and mentioned they were going to the refinery. I had no interest in going and rolled my eyes. Our neighbor offered to give mother and I a lift home, but mother wanted to go see the big refinery. She was like that, always supportive of daddy’s interests. I took the offer for a lift home and left.” She paused, placed a shaking hand to her mouth and glanced out the window.
“Anna? Are you ok? You don’t have to continue if this is painful for you.” Jack was concerned, but also curious about what was causing this upset.
“No, no, I’m ok. Where was I? Oh yes…I went home and dressed for bed. I was reading a book and dozed off. I had a dream of my mother calling out to me. Then she appeared in my dream and said, ‘Anna, you must carry on. I love you; you’ve always been my destiny. Now you must return home to your destiny.’ I woke and sat up in bed with my face soaked by tears. I got out of bed and went to the kitchen for a glass of water and then there was a knock at the door. The police had come to inform me there was an explosion at the refinery. Ronald and both my parents were killed.”
At a loss for words, Jack simply uttered, “How devastating. I’m sorry.”
“It was devastating. To lose everyone I loved in one instant. I numbly wrapped up my affairs in Texas and returned home. People were surprised when I returned. Most reacted by saying how hard it must be to live in the home I shared with my mother and daddy all those years. I never felt like that. From the moment I walked back through that door, I’ve felt nothing but peace. This was home, Jack, not just a place, but a feeling.” A look of contentment replaced the frown on Anna’s face as she stood and went to the bookcase behind her.
“The explosion was in 1957, I moved back here and operated as a B&B since 1960. I never intended it to be a B&B, it just happened. I have never advertised and I’ve never insisted on reservations. This is a hard concept to follow, but Destiny always seems to know who will land at her doorstep and I’ve never been unprepared. I’ve never had more guests than beds, and most that come here are on some kind of personal quest, just as you are, Jack.” She paused, to let the words find their mark. “I inherited the house and the oil business, so I’ve never needed to work. This is something I do because it brings me joy. It is also something I feel compelled to do; it’s a calling. I love meeting so many interesting people and once in a while, I’m even able to help a visitor in their quest. I only ask two things of my guests. The first is that you sign this guest book and write a brief description of yourself, your life, and how you came to be here. Include your initial impressions, too, please.”
“That’s a deal, and the second thing?” he asked with slight sarcasm, believing Anna would say to pay his bill.
“After your stay here, I want a letter for my journal.” Pulling out an over-filled, worn leather-bound album, she patted the cover. “These are all letters from Destiny’s guests. Each letter tells about their stay here and how it changed their life. As you see, Jack, this place holds a little magic for all who come through her doors.”
“Wow. I’m captivated! So I’m not the first one to feel the calling to come here? What sorts of things have happened to past guests? Can I read the stories?” Jack’s curiosity had him up on his feet, heading toward the album.
Laughing at his enthusiasm, Anna replied, “Whoa there! I think one day you’ll read them, but not today. I want you to figure out your own destiny and not be influenced by others’ experiences. Why don’t you move into the parlor with the guest book and I’ll go fix that coffee and pie I promised. Feel free to glance through the entries, I think you’ll find them quite interesting.”
Jack opened the book, pen posed, ready to write his own entry, but decided to first take a quick look at some of the others. Page after page had the same common theme—the guests had never heard of Destiny Inn and certainly had no clue they would be guests within her comforting walls. Each entry spoke of a sense of belonging each writer felt upon reaching Destiny. A chill ran through Jack; it wasn’t ominous, but rather a shiver of anticipation.
Anna returned with a serving tray complete with freshly brewed coffee and two large slices of warm pecan pie, topped with creamy vanilla ice cream. “Here we go, our decadent treat!” She poured the steaming coffee as Jack began writing his entry in the guest book. His was very similar to the others, except the addition of the line which read, I have a sense of Destiny playing a part in all her visitor’s lives, but I feel my visit here will be of great significance. I sense it has long been planned, as if I was expected here. There is an overwhelming feeling of a deep, unbreakable bond with this place, even though I have never been here before. Time will tell.
He placed the book on the table and picked up the plate laden with pecan pie and ice cream. “This smells divine!” Taking a small portion onto his fork he lifted it to his lips, as its warm sweetness touched his tongue he sighed, “Oh, this is heavenly.”
Anna blushed as she let out a giggle. “It is my mother’s recipe, and my special pecans, of course.”
“Your mother must have been an extraordinary woman. I would have loved to have met her. It’s apparent you inherited many of her talents.”
“My mother was one of a kind. Yes, I do have many of her characteristics.”
Jack noticed she had the same sparkle she had when she earlier spoke of her mother as a visionary. Jack inferred a deeper meaning behind Anna’s words. He tried to dismiss it as his imagination working overtime–a result of all he had on his mind and the food stupor he was fast entering.
“Anna, you’ve never mentioned registration or what I owe you for a night’s stay.” Jack was starting to feel drowsy and wanted to attend to business before it got too late.
“Well,” Anna replied, “the guest book is my registration and I don’t have a set nightly rate. All I ask is a minimum payment of twenty-five dollars per night. Anything over that is optional. The entire inn’s proceeds are donated to The Claire Sumpter Society.” She paused and looked into Jack’s eyes, “Claire Sumpter was my mother. I began the charity in her honor. We help underprivileged children with daily essentials, but also encourage character development through artistic creativity by giving them art supplies. There’s a free art workshop for all the local children. We also award scholarships every year to graduating seniors pursuing any type of artistic education or endeavor. We’ve had writers, sculptors, painters, musicians…you name it.”
“That sounds great. My dream is to be a writer. Am I too old for your scholarship?” He let out a hearty chuckle and Anna laughed along.
Turning serious again, Anna asked, “If that’s your true dream, what are you doing about it?”
It was direct questions such as this that stumped Jack. “I don’t know. I can tell you why it hasn’t happened: I’m waiting for the perfect time, the perfect story, and free time to write. All the typical excuses for why I’m not doing it, but I cannot tell you one thing I am doing to get closer to that dream.” Speaking of his dream out loud was always hard for Jack; it made fresh the wound of unfulfilled dreams. He did want to write and had often started, only to be sidetracked by his career and the demands of everyday life. He confessed to Anna, “This topic is near the top of my figure it out list…which is the sole purpose of my trip.”
“Tell me, Jack, what does your ex-fiancée do? How does she fit into your future plans?”
Anna’s sudden shift in topic caught Jack off guard. “She, Katie, is a freelance children’s book illustrator. She has a double major—art and children’s psychology. She creates the most beautiful illustrations. She is very selective about what stories she illustrates and only selects stories with lessons of humility, compassion and acceptance. Her illustrations are incredible—they are more poignant than the words of the stories. They are truly a reflection of her beautiful spirit. We met because of her profession.” Jack paused, emotion starting to overcome him. He knew one thing: his love for Katie was just as deep as it ever was. Jack poured fresh coffee then continued, “She was at a fundraiser for handicapped children. Our firm was a major sponsor and she was a guest speaker. It was a big formal, black-tie affair. I saw her walk on stage and my heart skipped a beat. No lie. She is incredibly beautiful and I was smitten. Then she began her presentation; I was mesmerized. I have never heard anyone speak with such honesty and passion. She truly cared about the kids. I was moved to tears! Her physical beauty palls in comparison to what she has within. I love her and this trip is about doing whatever I must to create our future together. I cannot answer for her, but I hope she feels the same way.”
“The only way to reclaim lost love is to put aside ego and selfishness and listen to your heart. Really listen. It knows and if you follow your heart, all of life’s true treasures will be yours.” Anna spoke with the wisdom of one who had experienced such loss.
“I am learning. Katie tried living in Washington, but between the bureaucratic red tape she encountered trying to raise funding for her projects, and always feeling like she was an afterthought to my career, she returned to Atlanta. Her dream is to work with mentally and physically disabled children through art therapy. I am ready to give up Washington and move back to this area, to create a life with her. She is one of a kind and I was a fool to let my career interfere. Any advice for this fool?” Jack asked.
With a light chuckle, Anna replied, “Oh for heaven’s sake, you’re no more a fool than any of us. We sometimes mistake our wants for our needs and life gets all catawampus. It isn’t too late…make it right. Tell you what, you get a good night’s rest and I bet you will awake with the clarity you’re seeking. You’ll know exactly what you want and how to make it happen!”
Finishing off his pecan pie, Jack glanced at his watch. “It’s not that late, but I’m beat. Maybe I should turn in. By the way, Anna, I haven’t noticed any other guests around. Am I the only guest tonight?”
“In fact you are. Sometimes it is like this, other times I am filled to capacity. I’m glad it’s just you tonight though; it has given us a chance to talk without distraction. If you’re ready to turn in, I’ll show you your room in a moment. Let me take these dishes to the kitchen and tidy up. You don’t you grab your belongings and a book from the library. There are some nice bedtime reads to relax your mind before drifting off to sleep. You remember the way? Right around the corner there.” Anna gathered their dishes and rambled off to the kitchen. Smiling to herself she knew Jack would be feeling better in the morning.
Jack retrieved his overnight bag from the car then returned to visit the library. He was tired and not much in the mood to read, but he quickly found a small book to take up with him anyway.
“Jack?” Anna called, “Are you ready to go up?”
“I am. My belly is full, I’ve found a book and all I need now is a soft pillow and comfy bed!”
“Then that is what we shall find,” Anna replied. She led the way up the wide oak staircase and down the hallway. “Here is your bathroom. I try to provide what you need, but if you don’t see something, please ask.” Turning the doorknob to his room, she paused, “Jack, this is my favorite room. I hope you’ll be comfortable here.”
A small bedside lamp was on, casting a warm glow across the room. The periwinkle walls reminded Jack of dusk on a warm summer’s night. The wide window was dressed in long, billowing white sheer curtains over wooden shutters. The bedding appeared to float across the bed; the plump tufted comforter topped a blue and white silk dust ruffle that flowed onto the floor. The vision in his mind was of slipping into the soft folds of a cloud to sleep. “Oh, this is fantastic! I feel enveloped in comfort and I haven’t even crawled into the bed yet.” He knew little about interior decorating, but it was apparent whoever decorated this room knew how to create a cozy sleep environment. “And the bed if magnificent! I’ve never had the privilege of sleeping in something so exquisite!”
“It is a remarkable bed, isn’t it?” Anna beamed with pride as she continued, “My great-great grandfather made it for his bride over one hundred-seventy years ago. It is hand-carved mahogany. I have been fortunate that I’ve never had to move it to another home. The headboard is eight feet tall and not many homes could even accommodate it!”
“Amazing. Are those cherubs?” Jack asked.
“They aren’t cherubs, but fairies and leprechauns. My ancestors were Irish. Fairies, leprechauns, ghosts, and the like are a very important component of Irish folklore and the Irish believed in their mystical powers and mischievous ways. Of course, many people still believe.” Pointing to the central figure, Anna explained, “This on is The Fairy Maiden of Moy Mell, the land of no death or sadness. She watches over your slumber. She enticed this one, Connla of the fiery Hair, to leave his people and sail away to the Plain of Pleasure with her.” Smiling, Anna continued, “Each has a unique story and task. I should put them in writing shouldn’t I? Perhaps put a little book here by the bed.”
“That would be a nice touch. I have heard only the basic stories of Irish folklore and now I’m intrigued to learn more. I can tell you one thing, this is the first time I’ve ever slept in a bed with Irish fairies! Maybe their mystical powers will work on me tonight?” he tentatively asked. As he turned to Anna, he noticed a twinkle in her eye and that little smirk across her lips again. At that moment, he recognized a joie de vivre in her that he seldom saw in adults and it made him smile.
“Jack, make yourself at home. I’m in the room at the end of the hall. If you need anything, just rap on the door. Otherwise, feel free to wander the house, fix a snack, whatever you like. I’m up by six-thirty every morning. You sleep as long as you like and when you’re up, I’ll fix you some breakfast. Sleep well, and pleasant dreams, Jack.”
“Thank you. I hope you also have a pleasant rest. Anna, thank you for making me feel so welcome. This is a wonderful house, but it’s your genuine hospitality that makes it welcoming.”
Anna graciously accepted Jack’s thanks and headed to bed.
Jack changed clothes, washed his face, brushed his teeth and took another look at himself in the mirror. His day started in this same way. However, what he saw in the mirror tonight was not the same man he saw this morning. A shift had already occurred. He went to his room, closed the door, turned back the bedding and slipped into bed. He couldn’t refrain from sighing aloud when he settled on the comfort of the bed. He picked up the book he had selected and began reading; the book slipped from his hand as he drifted off to sleep.
The tinkling of wind chimes stirred Jack from his sleep. He slowly stretched, then opened his eyes to the warm sunlight filtering through the shuttered window. While he felt rested, he was aware his sleep was filled with dream after dream. He was surprised, not only by the number of dreams he had, but also in their clarity. And in his ability to recall them with such clarity. He seldom dreamt, much less recalled his dreams. On the other hand, Katie was a vivid dreamer and believed dreams held the keys to the subconscious mind. She kept a dream journal and recorded her dreams each morning. A smile crossed Jacks lips as he imagined her analyzing his dreams for him. She once told Jack about different types of dreams. He struggled to recall what she said, regardless the category Katie would assign them, Jack knew his dreams were anything but the run-of-the-mill type.
Jack reached for his briefcase at the end of the bed, found a pen and legal pad and began writing:
Walking through the mist. As I emerge, Katie was there. She had a baby in her arms and was surrounded by a “glow” which I feel was love. I embraced her and kissed her forehead then the baby’s. Suddenly there were many children surrounding us. They wanted to touch Katie and were excited about the baby. They said, “We love you Ms. Jennings.” They were calling her by my last name! They wanted her to come back; they missed her. She said she would be back soon and that I would take care of the baby—little Anna Claire–while I work at home. The scene shifted and I was in the office of Destiny, behind the desk, writing. The baby was in a white bassinet in the corner. Pure love and contentment was what I felt. Not sure if it was the same dream or another, but I remember cutting one perfect white rose from Anna’s garden and walking hand-in-hand with Katie and Anna Claire (she seemed to be about three now). We placed the rose on a gravesite and whispered, “Thank you for your love and help in bringing us happiness.” I don’t recall anything else, but I have a sense of a new path before me. It’s calling me to claim my future.
Jack returned the legal pad to his briefcase and went to get cleaned up. While shaving, he took another good look into his own eyes and noticed a definite sparkle that didn’t exist yesterday.
Jack descended the steps and heard Anna call to him. “Jack, I’m here on the porch. Join me for some coffee and blueberry muffins.” As he stepped out into the bright Georgia morning, Anna inquired, “Did you sleep well?”
“Incredibly! I feel like a new man! Mmmmm, that coffee smells great.” Anna poured him a cup and he sipped it while leaning against the porch railing. “Anna, I don’t know if it was our conversation about the fairies or what, but I have never had such a night’s rest. I had the strangest dreams last night, too. I don’t normally dream and when I do, I don’t recall anything. However, these dreams were so vivid, so lifelike. What’s up with that?”
Laughingly she asked, “What’s wrong, Jack? Did you see your future or something?”
“What does that mean? Is there something I’m missing here? Is the bed really magical?”
Anna shrugged, “I don’t know, is it? I told you it was a very special bed. The truth is, I don’t know what it is. However, everyone who sleeps in the bed has vivid and meaningful dreams. What did your dreams show you?”
Jack decided to give Anna the edited version. “Well, I saw myself with Katie and our child, a little girl. I was writing a book and Katie was a teacher or counselor, something to do with lots of kids. We were blissfully happy and a family.” For some reason, he felt it necessary to leave out the information about the gravesite and white rose.
“That sounds like a beautiful vision. Is that the future you desire?” Anna had a way of asking pointed questions without appearing meddlesome.
“If I could have that sort of happiness, I’d be a fool to not make it happen. I’ve been a fool once; I don’t want to do it again! I realize each day is a gift to us. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow and I was wrong pushing my true desires aside for the pursuit of the almighty dollar and peer approval. That’s not what matters. Katie matters. She always says, ‘It’s the lives we touch and the love we nourish that will define us as successes in life.’ I don’t know why it took so long for me to understand that. Now I do, and I’m ready to make a commitment to living my life in that way!” As he finished his oratory, he laughed at himself, standing there with his finger pointed in the air, making his point in typical closing-argument fashion. The difference was, this was something he truly believed in.
“Jack that was convincing! Would you take a seat, I have something to discuss with you.”
The serious note to her tone got Jack’s attention, “Sure. What’s up?”
Anna fidgeted for a moment, and then began, “What if I could help you achieve the life you desire? Would you be interested in hearing what I have to say? There is no obligation other than you be open-minded and hear me out.”
Jack said, “That’s fair. Go ahead, my mind is clear and wide open.”
Anna bit her lower lip and appeared to collect her thoughts. “Ok, this will sound far-fetched, but hear me out without any judgment or before coming to a conclusion. I’m not sure where to begin, so I’ll start with a question first. When you arrived here, and since that time, have you sensed something in this house? More specifically, last night in your sleep?”
Jack wasn’t sure what she was alluding to. Ghosts? In a home this old, it wouldn’t be surprising. “Yes. I have felt a comforting presence all around. I guess I would describe it as the house’s character or history. Why?”
Drawing a deep breath, Anna said, “I don’t want to frighten you or make you uncomfortable, and if I do please tell me. I’ll give you the abbreviated history now and if you care to know more, then one day I will share more with you. My maternal great-great grandmother—the original owner of the bed—was what people call a seer; she could see the future. I don’t know much about what she saw or how readily she used her gift. Her daughter, and down through the family to my own mother also had the gift. I, too, possess the ability to see events yet to happen. I don’t see everything, just bits and pieces. The bed you slept in seems to play a part in all of this. I am the fifth generation female to own that bed; each owner possesses the gift. The bed was passed down to the first daughter to marry, as a wedding gift. Each daughter then produced a daughter of her own, until it reached me. After Ronald’s death, I never remarried or had children. Maybe that is the reason, maybe not, but now when guests sleep in the bed, they get a little piece of the gift. They get a glimpse into their future. I’ve often wondered about the bed…since I had no daughter, nobody to receive the gift, is it compelled to give a small dose to each person who sleeps in it?” She paused and refreshed her cup of coffee.
Jack took advantage of the pause to ask, “I’m with you so far, not entirely spooked yet. Is there more?”
“Yes, Jack. I knew you were coming here. I didn’t know you by name, but by sight. I knew you had worries and would be coming to stay with me. I also knew you would be the one I have been waiting for. Now I know all this sounds woo-woo, but it is the gospel truth!”
For a moment, Jack thought he might still be dreaming. He realized he was not and responded, “I see. This is a bit strange, Anna. What do you mean you have been waiting for me?”
“May I answer with a question? Or two. Last night did you dream of living here at Destiny? Of writing a book in the office?” She asked, with her eyebrows raised.
Feeling rather exposed, Jack responded, “Yes, I actually did. I didn’t tell you the part about living here and writing in the office, how did you know?”
“I know. I’ve been waiting for the right person to help me with a few projects. You are that person. Now I have an offer for you. It may sound sudden and irrational, but take my word for this, I am not crazy or irrational, and this is a long-coming, well thought out proposal. This is a two-fold offer and it’s all-or-nothing. Hear me out, think it over, then let me know your answer.” Anna paused to let Jack’s thoughts catch up with the conversation, “I have the preliminary groundwork laid to open the art school. I need an advisor, someone strong to successfully deal with the obstacles and objections that I may encounter, the legalities. You are versed in contract negotiation, you have a good business sense and you also have access to an expert opinion with Katie’s education and experience. I would pay you a nice salary, you would work directly with the board and me, Katie could have a key position in the art school, and you can make Destiny your home. What do you think so far?”
“Anna, you’ve only just met me. This is a very, very generous offer and one I will have to kick around. Of course, you’re assuming Katie and I will reunite and she would be willing to relocate here, too. Anyway, intriguing as it is, I’d like to hear the second part.” He was already contemplating life in Bakerville.
“The second part is what I hope will be the deal-maker! I’ll be back in a moment.” Anna left Jack alone with his thoughts for a few minutes before returning with the leather-bound book of letters. “Jack, I want you to write a book about Destiny Inn, using these letters from her guests. Some are remarkable. After you read them, I know you will believe in the magic of the bed. I am getting up in years, eighty-two soon, you know. I want a part of Destiny to live on. I have no children or family to continue her legacy. I want people to know the way she shaped so many lives. You have a dream, I have a dream, Katie has a dream. Let the magic of the bed bring them all to life!” Now on her feet, Anna took a sip of coffee, then placed her hands on Jack’s knees and bent down to look at him face-to-face. “I am not crazy. You can have me checked out, go over every detail of my life, talk to my friends, neighbors, doctors, anyone. I know what I know and have completed my part. The rest is up to you.”
Jack was truly at a loss for words. He composed himself enough to state, “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to think. I do believe in fate and without a doubt, there is some sort of fateful or magical force at work here. In fact, I too, feel I was meant to come here, but I just don’t know. I certainly need some time to think. Obviously, I also need to see Katie and determine if she and I have a future together, here or anywhere. You understand, don’t you?”
“Certainly. You take as much or as little time as you need. It may be hours or it may be months before you decided. I will be right here and the offer remains open.” She patted his leg as she got up. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some housework to do. Make yourself right at home, feel free to sit and contemplate, walk into town, work the rose garden, or whatever you wish to do. I’ll catch up with you before you leave for Atlanta.”
Jack simply sat in stunned silence for a while. His mind churned while he tried to absorb what had transpired in the past twenty-four hours. One minute he was looking himself in the mirror, lamenting the sorry state of his life, not knowing which direction to turn. The next moment he was fleeing from life as he knew it. And now he faced a wide-open opportunity to live the life of his dreams. It was too much to comprehend. He grabbed a blueberry muffin and went for a walk.
His thoughts came rapidly. He saw no downside to Anna’s offer. Of course there was the issue of Katie also being on board. He loved championing good causes and got into law with that intention. He wanted to be a writer and a project had just been handed to him. He grew up in Georgia, he loved the South and the slower pace. He absolutely adored both Anna and Destiny Inn and would no doubt be comfortable living there. He dared to push his thoughts a little farther, to envision Katie as the director of the art school. As he saw it, there was no decision to be made—it was all laid out in front of him and he’d be a fool to turn his back. He had made too many mistakes in his past and wasn’t doing it this time.
Jack worked his way back to Destiny and found Anna in the rose garden. “Jack, would you like to play in the dirt with me for a bit? What a glorious way to spend the morning!”
“Thank you, but not now. I will one day soon, though.” His words caught Anna’s attention and she turned to look at him. “Anna, I don’t know what forces are at work here, maybe nothing more than a friend making me see clearly. I am going to Katie now and I’m bringing her back here with me! Once she says yes to being my wife, yes to life here–and if the bed is correct, she will—I will return to Washington and wrap up my affairs, resign my position and pack my belongings. Of course I will make it quick—I’ll need to get out of town before they commit me to the nuthouse!” Jack couldn’t suppress the smile on his face or joy in his heart. He lifted Anna off the ground, gave her a hug and a kiss on the top of her head.
Anna, too was overcome with emotion and squealed, “Oh, Jack! I was hoping you’d say yes! I know you’ve made the right decision.”
“I plan on being back this evening, with Katie. Is that ok?” Jack asked.
“Yes it is ok! This is your home now, you come and go as you see fit. I have some files regarding the art school. I will pull them out so you may start reviewing them. When you return from Washington, when you’re here for good, we can get up and running right away.”
Jack replied enthusiastically, “Sure thing. I’ll take them to Washington with me and familiarize myself with your plans. Well, Ana, partner, thank you from the bottom of my heart. If you leave some of that dirt in the garden,” he said while gently brushing dirt from Anna’s face, “I’ll dig in it with you tomorrow.” He gave her a wink and she took his hand as they headed toward the house, chattering non-stop.
Jack collected his things and met Anna on the porch. They bid one another goodbye and with assuredness, Jack left to bring Katie home.
Seldom does a man’s life turn out more perfectly than Jack’s. He returned to Destiny Inn, helped establish the art school, which was run by his lovely bride, Katie, and wrote his book. Anna, Jack, and Katie loved one another like family and lived harmoniously at Destiny. When Katie gave birth to a darling baby girl, there was no question her name would be Anna Claire. Life was just as it should be.
It was nearly five years after first stumbling upon Destiny that Jack finished and sold his book, Nights of Destiny. He sat at his desk and composed a letter to his editor.
Matthew, you have been extremely patient with me through this project. I ask you to allow me one final change to the book. I have an additional letter I simply must include. At the point, to exclude the letter, would make the book incomplete.
Anna passed away last night. She left the following letter for me and I want it as the final chapter. I’m sure you’ll agree once you’ve read it.
My dearest Jack, Katie and Little Anna Claire,
My days are limited now. I know this and am not frightened or sad. I want to tell you so much before I go, but feel it better to leave it in a letter rather than tell you the end is near. Please forgive me.
I have lived a wonderful life. The past five years have been the best. Your little family has brought me a lifetime of joy in the short time we’ve shared.
Do you recall, Jack, when I told you that I knew you were coming? I knew and I was so anxious for your arrival. There were many nights I slept in the dream bed just because I knew it would bring you to me, at least in my dreams. I waited anxiously for the day we’d actually meet. The moment I saw you, I felt a bond that transcended time or reason. Our souls knew one another, Jack. I believe if I ever had a son, you would have been him. God chose to send you to another family, but he made sure I got the opportunity to include you as part of my family, too.
You all have brought so many of my dreams to life and I will be grateful to you even in my eternal sleep. You are the caretakers of Destiny. You understand and cherish her, just as I did. She is your home now, until the end of time.
I would like to ask three small promises. First and most importantly, always keep the bed in our family. Pass it to Anna Claire and down to her daughter and her daughter’s daughter. Never let it go.
The second request is that you keep your heart open and from time to time you’ll know when someone needs a little guidance. Offer them a night’s refuge in the bed and see if the magic touches their life.
Lastly, tend the roses. You know how I love them. Once a year, on the anniversary of my death, place one single white rose on my gravesite. They were always my favorite.
May God bless you all as he has blessed me with your love and friendship. Know I leave you peacefully.
I love you Jack, Katie and Little Anna Claire.
Tears rolled down Jack’s face as he placed the letter into an envelope and whispered, “I love you too, Anna.”