The One Real Thing
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“It does.” She nodded, suddenly looking serious. “We used to own a lot of this town, but over the years the family lost most of it. My parents sold what was left with the exception of the inn. Boardwalk properties are prime real estate here. I offered to run the place because my brother and sister weren’t interested. My parents are retired in Florida.”
“Do you like running the inn?”
“I love it.”
I could tell she meant it.
“Do you like being a doctor?”
“How could you not? You’re saving people’s lives.” She ate a piece of bacon. As soon as she swallowed it she said, “So what made you want to vacation here?”
I contemplated Bailey because as someone who had lived here her whole life, and whose family had lived here generations before, I could only assume she was pretty familiar with most of its inhabitants. “Would you happen to know George Beckwith?”
“Sure. How do you know George?”
“We have a mutual acquaintance,” I said, evading the question. “Anyway, this place was recommended to me and I thought I’d stop in to see George while I’m here. He owns property on the boardwalk, right?”
Bailey wrinkled her nose. “Yeah, but George closed up shop a few weeks ago and took off for Nova Scotia. His daughter, Marie, lives in Canada with her family and George decided to spend the summer there.”
For a moment all I heard were the names George and Marie. Sarah’s story suddenly became even more real, hearing Bailey talk about the people mentioned in her letters.
That made the disappointment that flooded me even worse.
I hadn’t even considered that I might not actually get to pass the letters on to George.
“So what’s it like working in a women’s prison?” Bailey interrupted my thoughts and I remembered why I was here.
I had to put Sarah’s situation out of my mind and force the ache she’d caused out of my chest.
“It’s like anywhere. You get used to your environment.”
“Is it scary or am I being judgmental?”
I smiled at her wince. “We learn quickly if an inmate is going to be a problem, and there are always guards on hand. Mostly they’re fine with me because I’m usually helping them out, but there is the minority . . . I’ve been spat on before.” I wrinkled my nose, remembering the charming incident.
I laughed at her using the same word I’d been thinking.
“As I said, there are dangerous criminals in there and the not so dangerous. Many of those women are just people who have made mistakes and are now paying for them.”
“I guess. Still, it must be stressful sometimes.”
“I’m not sure running an inn isn’t any less stressful.”
“Running an inn can be stressful,” she agreed. “But I love this place. I love Hart’s Boardwalk.”
“That’s what the locals call this place because of the legend.”
“What legend?” I leaned forward, intrigued.
“That if you’re destined for true love, you’ll find it on the boardwalk.”
I grinned. “How romantic.”
Bailey smiled softly, a hint of sadness in her eyes. “I know it sounds cheesy, but the legend grew from something kind of beautifully tragic, actually. Back in 1909 my great-grandmother’s sister, Eliza, was the darling of Hartwell. Our family still had wealth and power and Eliza, being the eldest, was expected to marry well. Instead she somehow crossed paths and fell in love with a steelworker from the Straiton Railroad Company, which was based just outside of town. Jonas Kellerman was considered beneath Eliza and also a con artist. Her family tried to convince Eliza that he was only using her to gain her wealth.
“But Eliza didn’t believe her family and she and Jonas made plans to marry in secret. Her father, my great-great-grandfather, found out their plans and he threatened harm against the Kellermans if Eliza didn’t marry the man he had chosen for her. To protect Jonas she agreed to marry the son of a wealthy Pennsylvania businessman. But, devastated, on the eve of her wedding Eliza snuck out and went to the beach late at night. She walked right into the ocean. By chance Jonas was up on the boardwalk with some friends, drowning his sorrows, when he saw Eliza. He rushed down to save her and his friends say they saw him reach her. But the ocean carried them away together and they were never seen again.”
Jesus Christ. This place was just brimming over with heartbreaking love stories. Now my heart broke for Eliza and Jonas as well as Sarah and George. “Wow.”
Bailey gave me that sad smile again. “Over the years people have grown to believe in the legend that Jonas’s sacrifice and the purity of their love created the magic. Also because townies who fall in love on the boardwalk stay in love their whole lives. There’s a spot on the boardwalk near the bandstand with a brass plaque for tourists about the legend. It says if they walk the boardwalk together, and they’re truly in love, it will last forever. Tom and I are of course evidence of its truth.” She grinned.
“As for my great-great-grandfather,” she continued, “he made a few bad investments and lost a lot of his wealth. People believed the Hartwells were being punished for what happened to Eliza.”