November 1st, 1974.  1:00 PM

 

Though I’m not quite sure how long the kiss lasted, I can safely say (as is true with most kisses) it was over too soon.  Unlike the majority of kisses I’ve been party to, however, a bartender clearing his throat broke up this particular one.

            “Sorry to interrupt you there, Sammy,” Ryan O’Donahue said, placing a steaming bowl on the bar.  “But if you let it get cold, it won’t be nearly as good.”

            “So how did you find me?” I asked Sarah as we both took a seat.

            “Oh, that is a story in itself,” she replied, turning her attention to the bowl.  “That smells delicious, Ryan.  I haven’t had a good Irish stew in months, if not years.  And I’m absolutely famished.”

            I offered her the spoon and said, “Help yourself.”  After she tasted it, she took another spoonful, blew on it lightly, and offered it to me.  Granted, the image of two people sharing a bowl of brown stew may not paint as romantic a picture as a couple of starry-eyed teenagers sharing a vividly pink malted milkshake nose-to-nose when they sipped from their respective straws, but I couldn’t have been happier.

            “Is it safe to assume, from the welcome you just gave me that you accept my apology?”  She said.

            “For what?”  I asked.  Had my mind been clearer, I might have remembered how she had allowed herself to be whisked away by her father, with only a short, hastily typed note as a goodbye, and how she didn’t write or phone during the ensuing years.  But she was here with me now, so none of that seemed to matter.  I was still curious to learn how she tracked me down, so I asked once more.

            “I’ve been working for a private collector,” she said.  “A stodgy, old, obscenely wealthy curmudgeon who craves treasures from cultures around the world yet has no desire to remove his large derričre from behind his obscenely expensive desk.  I’d spent two years in South America, then came north through Central America, worked my way up the coast, and suddenly found myself in Washington.  I tried to locate your company, but I’d either forgotten its name or you never told me.  You know, you aren’t the only bead seller based in Seattle.”

            “With the way things are going, check back tomorrow.  There will probably be even more,” I said.

            “Well, as luck would have it, I found myself in this very establishment, and taking a complete shot in the dark I asked our handsome bartender if he knew a Samuel Louviere.  I then told him how desperately I needed to get in touch with you, and to make my point I told him everything about our torrid affair in Bali,” she said coquettishly.

            “Not everything, I hope.”  I tried to match her flirtatious tone. 

            “A lady does keep some secrets,” she said.  “Well, Mr. O’Donahue told me of your upcoming Christmas party.  I had originally planned to be an uninvited guest; I’d show up masked, flirt with you a bit, then reveal myself at midnight.”

            “That seemed to be a popular idea,” I said.

            “Excuse me?”

            “Nothing,” I replied.  “It’s not important.”  Then O’Donahue came down to our end of the bar and asked how the stew was.  “So you knew about her all along, Ryan?” I asked.

            “Hardest secret I ever kept,” he said, flinging a towel over his shoulder.  “I thought she was that woman dressed like a witch.  I couldn’t wait ‘til she surprised you, but things turned out, well, different, didn’t they.”

            “Did they ever,” I replied.

            “So tell me about you, Sam.  What have you been up to?” Sarah asked.

            I guess it was due to the shock of being with her again, but all thoughts of the last few weeks seemed to vanish.  There were no exploding motorcycles to recall, or crazy mystics at rock concerts -- even the seven strange beads and the stranger woman who was after them seemed to be nothing more than memories from a forgotten past.

            “We’ve got some interesting charms in,” I said.  “They should be big sellers.  And it’s nothing more than a gut feeling, but I really think copper findings are going to take off this year.”  It sounded much more boring than I had expected it to when I’d thought of it.

            “You and your beads,” she said.  “I haven’t had a conversation about beads in the longest time, not since having fallen out of favor with my father.”

            “Oh, crap,” I said, but not in response to what she’d just told me.

            “Such language, Mr. Louviere.  And why should you be so upset about my father and me parting ways?”

            “It’s not that,” I said, looking at my watch.  “I have to leave.  I’m so sorry, but I have a plane to catch.  But you will keep in touch this time, won’t you?  I can take some time off after Christmas, and if your employer…”

            “Hush.”  She cut me off by putting her finger to my lips.  “Your receptionist undoubtedly broke a rule or two, but I was able to persuade her to tell me your travel plans.  And as it happens, I also have a plane to catch, so can I get a ride to the airport?  I hope so, considering I’ve already arranged for my rental to be picked up here.  We can have our goodbyes and promises of many more hellos once we’re on our way.”

            I took some bills from my wallet and placed them on the bar.  After saying goodbye to Ryan, I took Sarah’s hand and started to escort her out.

            “Are those yours?” She asked.

            I turned to see her pointing at the three strange beads I’d gotten from my employees.  They were still sitting on the bar napkin.   I had thought them remarkably ugly upon examination a short time before, but after having stared into the most beautiful blue eyes for the last several minutes, they seemed even more grotesque.  I wrapped them in the napkin and put them back into my jacket pocket.

 

November 1st, 1974.  1:20 PM       

 

It turned out our cars were right next to each other in O’Donahue’s parking lot, so the transfer of her luggage to my car was less backbreaking than it could have been.  Though I found Sarah to be the most unique woman in the world, she did have at least one trait in common with other women:  traveling with too many bags, each weighing more than one would think possible.

            “So you and your father are on the outs, then?” I asked after slamming the trunk closed and opening the passenger door for her. 

            “You’re partly to blame,” she said with a smile that said I was absolved of all responsibility.  “After he’d cut our Bali excursion short I realized he had no intention of ever letting me live my own life.  Everything he did and said to me seemed to confirm that, so after I graduated, I simply left.”

            “You don’t see him at all?” I said, pulling out into the street.

            “I send him postcards to tell him where I am in the world and how much I’m enjoying myself.  I do feel guilty every now and then when I find beads from some ancient culture knowing they would make his mouth water if he simply thought of owning them.  And though I could acquire them for little more than a few pennies and a fluttering of my eyelashes, I just move along.”   

            “So he’s still trying to retrace the history of man through the beads of ancient cultures?” I asked.

            “Beads and a few other things,” she said.  “At least he was the last time I spoke to him, but it has been quite some time.”  She placed her chin in her hand and watched the seemingly never-ending line of telephone poles rush past her window.  After several seconds went by she said, “It’s funny he didn’t even try to get along with you, isn’t it?  He so loved beads, and there you were, a bead salesman.  Who could have guessed I’d meet a man with something so in common with my father, and yet he still refused to approve.”

            “We have something else in common,” I said.

            “And what would that be?”

            “We both love his daughter.”

            Did I just tell her I love her?  I thought.  Was it too soon after having been apart for so long? 

            She reached over and put her hand on my shoulder.  Her smile was genuine.  I found myself wishing the airport were thousands of miles away and our drive would last for days.

 

November 1st, 1974.  2:05 PM

            We were both taking the same airline, so at least I could spend a few more precious minutes with her even if they had to be spent standing in line.  After we checked in, we headed to the gates.

            “I’m Gate 24C,” I said, looking at my ticket.

            “7B,” she replied. 

“It’s par for the course, really,” I said.  “I’m always at the farthest gate possible.

 

November 1st, 1974.  2:15 PM

 

When we reached her gate her plane was not yet boarding, but the DC-10 whose duty it was to steal her from me sat patiently on the tarmac.  It had undoubtedly played a part in separating countless lovers, so as far as it was concerned, today was business as usual.  I never would have guessed the wings of fate were metal.

            We set down our carry-on bags, and I put my arms around her.  A word of advice for anyone who might eventually read this:  hello kisses and goodbye kisses should never be given or received with so little time in between.

            She pulled away from me, and the moisture welling in her eyes wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.  She looked up at the electronic board.

            “I’ve got a while, but your plane is boarding.  You’ve quite a walk, you should be going.”

            I would have loved to argue the point, but I couldn’t.  “Goodbye, Sarah,” I said.

            “Goodbye, Sam.  But not for so long this time, I promise.”

            I picked up my bag and walked down the long hallway to the uncaring plane that waited for me.

            I couldn’t get the smell of her perfume out of my head.  At first I thought it was just a trace amount that may have made its way onto my clothing.  But after passing a stand selling soft pretzels, it was still with me long after the scent of baking dough and hot mustard had passed.  Between gates 20 and 21 there was a shoeshine stand, and even the pungent odor of the shoe polish was long gone while the smell of Sarah’s perfume still haunted me.

            I reached my gate, and was just about to hand my boarding pass to the attendant when I finally admitted to myself I was making a mistake.  The life I was looking forward to getting back to didn’t see so comfortable anymore.  My customers could wait a week or so, and I could send the beads and whatnot to replace the ones stolen from Sage via express mail, so she’d have them with time to spare.  I’d have ample opportunity before her flight boarded to run back to her gate and convince her…well, I wasn’t sure what I’d be convincing her of – her staying, me going with her, us going somewhere else – but I just couldn’t conceive of losing her again.

            I turned.  My mind told me to run as fast as I could, but with so much to think about, my brain had a hard time relaying the sense of urgency to my legs.  Instead I just shuffled, like a child lost in the supermarket, not knowing which aisle to turn down to find Mommy.  It’s a good thing I didn’t dart off with the momentum of a star running back, for if I had, I’d have run right into Sarah and would have probably knocked her to the ground.  She had been standing right behind me. (I guess that explains why the smell of her perfume lingered for so long.)

            “What…” I was able to communicate the first word of my question, but fortunately she didn’t need to hear the rest of it.

            “I’m going with you, Mr. Louviere.  But come on, we’d best hurry.”  She snatched the boarding pass from my hand, and gave it and hers to the attendant.  As we walked quickly down the gangway, she apologized for a second time.

            “You’ll have to excuse the little con game I played on you,” she said.  “But that small lie did get me one great kiss, as I’d hoped it would.”

            “I was just going back to get you.”

            “Then my plan wasn’t in vain,” she said.  “I’m taking a week off, and I know you’ve got work to do but I’ll just tag along quietly.  What a great way to see the States, the real America.  Not by going to stuffy museums or boring meetings with millionaire traders, but by being with people, genuine people.  And in your off hours…” instead of speaking further she squeezed my hand and laughed.

 

November 1st, 1974.  2:35 PM

 

As you may remember from an earlier entry, traveling by air is not my favorite way to spend any amount of time, though admittedly it isn’t the actual flying that bothers me as much as the takeoffs and landings.  Usually my hands tightly grip the armrests, and long-forgotten prayers from Sunday school magically become as familiar to me as the afternoon I’d first memorized them.  On this trip, however, I didn’t even notice when the too-heavy-to-fly machine took to the air.  If I had thought about it as I usually did, I surely would have crushed Sarah’s dainty hand.  Even though she wasn’t aware of it, we both had reason to be happy that I was unusually calm during this trip.

            Soon after the plane leveled off, a stewardess came by to take drink orders.  It didn’t take any forethought to order two glasses of champagne, for I’d never had anything as important to celebrate as my upcoming week with Sarah.  While reaching for my wallet to pay for the drinks, however, I found it wasn’t in my back pocket.  I apologized to the stewardess as I searched through my pockets, emptying them onto the tray table.  During my hunt, I pulled out the napkin-wrapped beads and placed them with the other items set aside.  Eventually I located the wallet in my breast pocket, paid the stewardess, and made a toast to Sarah.

            “Here’s to a woman of small stature who was able to take a man so ordinary it’s extraordinary and make him happier than any man who has ever lived.”  Granted, it wasn’t the most romantic toast I could have made, but the creative part of my mind was already planning the next seven days and couldn’t be bothered with trivial platitudes.  Besides, Sarah seemed to like it.

            We clinked glasses (as much as plastic can clink) and took our good luck sips before setting them down and sharing another kiss.  Then, realizing everything I’d taken out of my pockets might drop to the floor if we hit turbulence, I starting putting each item back to where it had come from.  During my toast and our kiss, the napkin with the beads had opened slightly, and as I reached for it Sarah grabbed my wrist, stopping me.

            “What are these?” She said, taking the bundle and placing it on her tray table before unwrapping it completely.

            “Oh, just some beads,” I answered.

            “I can see that.”  She gave me a sideways glance accompanied by that demure grin.  She picked up the arrowhead/demon-faced bead and held it up.  I noticed slight surprise in her face.  Then she picked up Donald’s haunted-looking banana bead, and again seemed taken aback.

            “Thibaut’s Beads,” she said to herself.  And then to me, “You’re not actually thinking of selling these, are you?  I doubt there’d be a market for them.”

            “No,” I said.  “But how did you – what did you call them?”

            “Thibaut’s Beads.  You mean you don’t know what they are?  May I ask then why you have them?”   

“I’m not sure,” I admitted.  “I didn’t know they even had a name.  Whose beads are they?”

            “Thibaut’s.”

            She then picked up the crystal with the dried blood (or whatever it was) floating inside and studied it with the same seriousness she’d given the other two.  After it had been given a half minute of her attention, she wrapped all three in the napkin and handed it back to me.

            “I don’t mean to give you business advice, but speaking from an ornamental standpoint, they’re not the most attractive beads in the world.  And considering so few people are familiar with the legend, I doubt you’d sell many for that reason.  But still,” she continued after a long pause, “they are remarkable reproductions.”

            “Reproductions?”  I was stunned.  After all the time I’d spent wondering why these beads were so important, it turned out they were only copies.  Did Celia Andrews know they were fakes?  Did she even know they represented Thibaut’s Beads – whatever that meant?  “How do you know?  I mean, what makes you so sure they’re not the genuine article?”

            She laughed that laugh that made me want to take her somewhere where we’d never have to see another human being.  “Because there is no such thing as Thibaut’s Beads.  It’s only a legend.”

            “Wait, wait a second,” I said, once more trying to wrap my mind around a new piece of information concerning these blasted beads.  “If there’s no such thing as the real ones, how can these be reproductions?  What are they reproduced from?”

            “Oh, lots of things.  Various sketches, written descriptions, stories passed down by word of mouth from generation to generation.  Not many people have heard of them, but a good deal of those who have often become rather obsessed.  My father is, or was – I’m not sure if he still is – just to name one.  I’m sure a smooth-talking huckster, if he found the right gullible sap, could pass these off as the real thing and make a small fortune.  But that’s not what you plan to do, is it Mr. Louviere?”

            “No.  I didn’t even know they had a name, much less…what was that name again?”

            “Thibaut.”

            “Right, Thibaut.  No, I didn’t even know about him.”  Then, after thinking for a moment, “Is it a he?”

            “Yes,” Sarah said.  “It’s a he.  You’re not toying with me, are you?  And, by any chance, do you have copies of the other four?”

            “So there are seven!”  I said, probably too excitedly.  “I knew it.”

            “So you know there are seven beads, but you don’t know the story.  I think you’re holding out on me, Sam,” she said.

            “Yeah, I’ll tell you the whole story in a minute,” I said.  “But first, do you know the legend of Thibaut’s Beads?  Can you tell it to me?”

            “It’s a rather long story,” she said.

            “It’s also a rather long flight,” I reminded her.

            “Fair enough.  Shall I go first, then?”

            I said I’d be grateful if she would. 

So then she told me a story.

 

 ..................to be continued

 

© 2006 Brightlings Beads and M. Robert Todd