Makin' Miracles, page 8
They did and found more vistas around the next bend. And the next.
It was several hours later when Spencer seemed to be satisfied with his morning’s work and started to pack up his equipment.
He leaned over to kiss Zola impulsively, his lips cold from the time out of doors. “I will never say a derogatory word about your gift again.” He smiled at her.
“You’d better not.” She traced a hand down his face affectionately. She couldn’t admit to him what a rare joy it had been to watch him work. The creative energy flowed off him as he did. It was exciting.
“Your hands are cold.” He turned one of her hands over to blow his warm breath across her palm.
Zola’s heart skittered a beat.
“Where are your gloves?” he asked.
“In my pocket. I took them off to eat an icicle. I was thirsty.” He seemed surprised at that and looked at his watch. Obviously, he’d lost track of time, absorbed in his work.
“Come on,” he said, opening the car door to let her in. “I’ll take you to a late breakfast. It’s the least I can do. Where do you want to go?”
“The Pancake House.” She grinned at him.
He started the car. “The Pancake House it is.”
They started down the mountain, Spencer stopping occasionally to take a few more shots. He was like a man obsessed when working.
“Tell me what it’s like to see as a photographer,” Zola asked him later as they sat over breakfast, drinking hot coffee and eating eggs, sausage, and hot pancakes drizzled with fresh blueberries and blueberry syrup.
He looked thoughtful. “A photographer has to learn to see in a new way. He needs to learn to see scenes in lines, shapes, and textures. Like an artist, he learns to manipulate and set his scene, use the influence of light and the force of color to his advantage.” He took a sip of his coffee.
“The camera becomes a tool for exploration. With experience and a right heart, a good photographer can gain a picture that captures nature’s soul.” He gestured as he talked. “Like any artistic endeavor, the goal is to share your experience with others, to make them see as you see. To touch them in a new way.”
She leaned forward, fascinated with his words.
“If I photograph a picket fence,” he continued, “I want the viewer to not only see the fence in its rural setting but to feel the rhythm of the fence.” He spread his fingers in an arc as if drawing the fence in the air. “Sometimes I think photography achieves its uniqueness by expressing what is impossible to express in words.”
Zola licked blueberry syrup off her fingers. “I like the messages and stories your photographs portray, Spencer. You’re very good at what you do.”
“Thank you.” He stretched his shoulders back, obviously tired. “Do you mind stopping by the gallery with me, Zola? I’d like to leave my photos with Clark—so he can begin to look through the images. He’s an expert on the computer and has an eye for just which shots will make the best print images.”
He dug money out of his pocket for the tip. “I often let him go through the images to give me his take and then I go through them on my own later, comparing my ideas with his. When Clark and I get it down to the wire and decide on a handful of shots, then Aston has this incredible knack of knowing which images will sell. Sometimes what is the best art and what is the best image to sell are two totally different things.”
Zola had never thought about photography as a group process. “The three of you make a good team.”
“We do. That’s true.” He got up, dropped the tip on the table, and picked up their breakfast ticket before reaching out a hand to help Zola from her chair.
It dawned on Zola then that Spencer was consistently a gentleman in this way. He opened car doors, took her elbow crossing a street, helped her up and down from her seat.
She looked at him as she took his hand. “You have good manners.”
He grinned at her. “It’s the Southern gentleman bred into me. My sister Rita would say it’s my good Southern Chatsworth blood showing.”
Zola noticed a warm tone when Spencer mentioned Rita’s name. “You’re fond of your sister?”
His face darkened. “We were close once. When we were small.”
Zola left the subject wisely alone then. Spencer would tell her about his life one day when he was ready.
At the gallery, Spencer enthusiastically shared the adventures of his morning photo shoot with Aston and Clark. Zola wandered around the well-lit gallery spaces studying Spencer’s work. She hadn’t been in the gallery in several months, and she saw the pictures with new eyes now that she knew the photographer.
Clark soon went into the back office to work on the computer, and Spencer and Aston walked over to where Zola stood, observing a close-up photo of a purple aster with a bee on it.
She pointed to the framed photo. “Did you know honey bees, like this one in your photograph, often travel four miles to collect pollen and nectar from flowers and blossoms to make honey?”
Aston grinned. “That’s a huge distance for a little bee. Wonder if they take the weekends off or ever take a rest?”
“Actually, they do rest some days.” Zola turned to him with a smile. “They also take a break on rainy days from collecting.”
Aston laughed with a hearty sound. “So when we’re moaning over a rainy day, the bee guys are having a happy dance for getting a day off.”
“I guess so.” Zola liked Aston. He was an easy, comfortable black man, wonderful with the public and very competent and smart. Spencer was lucky to have him.
Aston gave her a small hug now. “It’s good to see you again, Zola Devon. It’s been a long time.”
“Yes, it has.”
He stepped back, still holding her hand affectionately in his. “I’d have invited you and Spencer to go to lunch with me but Spencer tells me you just finished a late breakfast.”
“We did. Our morning got rather busy and we were late eating.”
Aston smiled. “So I heard.” He shook his head then. “I’m envious of Spencer getting a whole morning to himself with a beautiful woman. I’d like to have someone special to be taking to lunch.”
Spencer interrupted them, looking at his watch. “Listen, I’d better take Zola home. I know she’s tired. Her little mission got her up at the crack of dawn today.”
Zola wandered over to look at a few more photographs while Spencer and Aston said their good-byes. Then Spencer came to help Zola back into her coat.
As they started to leave, Zola stopped abruptly and turned back to look at Aston. She was hearing a word for him. It floated up clearly into her consciousness.
“Aston, if you’ll go to lunch right now you might not have to eat lunch alone.” She grinned at him. “Go to the Garden Café and look for the woman alone at the table by the window in the right front corner.”
Aston stepped forward eagerly, his face lighting up. “Will she be a black woman, this lady by the window?”
Zola laughed. “I believe that’s what you’ve been praying for, isn’t it, Aston? God likes a specific prayer. I also think you’ll find she grew up near the ocean, like you. I think you mentioned that would be nice, too.”
“And is she tall with a good smile?” Aston was probably six foot four.
Zola smiled at him. “God isn’t hard of hearing, Aston Parker.”
“Glory Hallelujah!” He grabbed up his coat from behind the counter and started toward the front door.
“Hey!” Spencer caught his arm. “You’re not going to believe God is in the matchmaking business—just like that—are you?”
“Brother, you’re a slow man to believe, aren’t you?” Aston punched him on the shoulder. “And slow to see. We serve a good God, you know.”
He pushed through the door, and then reopened it to look back. “You didn’t get a name, did you, Zola?”
She shook her head with pleasure at his enthusiasm. These were the best of times with her gift. “It’s Carole,” she said, wonderin
Spencer watched Aston sprint across the courtyard of the Laurel Mountain Village Mall. He shook his head in amazement.
“Unbelievable. Aston was so excited he forgot to even tell Clark he was leaving for lunch. Let me run back and tell him that he needs to cover the front of the store before we go.”
Spencer started toward the back of the gallery. “I’ll be right back.”
The door opened while Zola waited, and Ben Lee came in, loaded down with an armload of framed prints.
Zola ran to hold the door for him. Benwen Lee, whom everyone simply called Ben, was a Chinese man who ran a framing shop in the Gatlinburg area. Zola knew he framed most all of Spencer’s photographs, and she often had Ben frame nature prints for her when she needed a framer for Nature’s Corner. He did excellent work.
Zola smiled at him. “Hello, Ben. How are you?”
He walked over and leaned the stack of framed photographs, all wrapped neatly in brown paper, against the counter before answering. “Ahhh. I am not good, Miss Zola.” He frowned. “You have been away and perhaps have not heard about my daughter.”
Zola put a hand to her heart. “I hope she’s not ill.”
“No. Missing. No one know where. One day she here, one day she gone.” He shook his head sadly. “Police have looked and looked since the first of the year when she went missing and have found no trace of her. There is no peace in that, no peace at all. It is a great sorrow.”
Zola put a hand on Ben’s arm in sympathy. She knew Seng Ryon was Ben’s only daughter. In fact, it was Seng who’d brought Ben to the States. She had married Juan Hee Chen, who owned the Chen Palace Chinese Restaurant in Gatlinburg, and after Ben’s wife passed away in China, Seng encouraged Ben to come live with them. He did live with them for a season, but then started his framing business and moved into an apartment over his shop, wanting his own independence.
Zola was truly sorry to hear about Seng. “What happened?”
Spencer came out as she asked this, interrupting their conversation. He spoke to Ben and signed the receipt for the delivered merchandise. Then Spencer looked across at Zola. “Ben’s daughter disappeared while you traveled to the South Pacific, Zola. She went out to the bank at the end of a business day one evening and never came back. The police have been unable to find even a trace of her.”
“Did she get to the bank?”
Ben jumped into the story. “No. Bank say she never come. Money from the day at the restaurant gone, too.”
“The police think it must have been a robbery.” Spencer looked at Ben sympathetically. “They don’t hold out much hope Seng is still alive. But it’s hard for Ben and the family. They have no resolution.”
Ben pushed his beat-up, tan fedora back on his head. Zola couldn’t ever remember seeing him without that hat on.
“Are they still investigating?” Zola knew all of Ben’s family, and it was hard to imagine how grievous this time had been for them.
“Police say there is not much clue, but they are still looking.” Ben shook his head sadly. “Juan Hee, Seng’s husband, he not same man since she been gone. Seng was right hand partner in the business. She is missed there even though Frank Jie and Zia do much of the work.”
Frank was Juan and Seng’s son, and he and his wife, Zia, had worked in the business for years. However, Juan and Seng’s daughter, Nina, worked for Ben. Zola had known all the Lee family since girlhood and gone to school with Nina.
“I am so sorry about this, Ben.” She leaned over impulsively to hug him.
“Someone did this bad thing to my Seng.” He looked at Zola pointedly. “We need to know who it is. You see if you can know, Zola. You have gift to know.”
Zola chose her words carefully. “Ben, you know I don’t know things of myself. I am just sometimes used by God to share things as He desires. It’s His knowing and not mine. But I will pray the police will find the people who did this awful thing to Seng.”
He gave her a stubborn look. “You pray God show you. You make Him show you.”
Spencer stepped in then. “Listen, Ben. I know you are troubled, but this situation isn’t Zola’s responsibility. She isn’t a fortune-teller. Be careful that you don’t threaten her.”
Ben shuffled his feet.
“I truly am sorry about Seng.” Zola patted his arm fondly. “She was a wonderful person.”
Ben left then, and the awkward moment passed.
Zola looked over to see Spencer scowling. “That’s the sort of thing I was talking about, Zola. People pushing on you and pressuring you, knowing you have a gift. It could be dangerous for you.”
She spoke softly. “And should I have stayed in bed and not come to wake you this morning to photograph the hoarfrost?”
He laughed. “I’m not even going to consider answering that! Come on. I’ll take you home, Zola.”
The photographs from the hoarfrost turned out to be spectacular. Spencer knew he would use at least one of the photos in the new book he was working on. Already, several photographs had been enlarged and framed to sell in the gallery as well. Aston said people always stopped to talk about the prints.
February slid into March, and soon April arrived. Spencer saw Zola now and then at the hut behind his house at Raven’s Den. He had revisited the church one Sunday and seen her there, too. But he had not asked her out. She was a complicated woman, and he didn’t know if he wanted to become more involved with her.
Sitting sprawled on the big sofa in his living room, Spencer realized he was thinking about Zola again. Despite his continual mental reasonings, he thought about her far too often. And whenever he saw her, his blood pumped. He hoped it would go away in time. He didn’t want a deeper relationship with her.
In annoyance, he paced back to his office.
I’ll check my e-mail, catch up on my correspondence, Spencer thought, seeking a distraction. He sat down at his computer and booted up the system.
Zeke padded into the room to plop down at Spencer’s feet.
Spencer reached down to scratch the dog’s back with affection. “We just need to get our minds on something else, don’t we, buddy?”
He scanned down the in-box list of new e-mails. It was lengthy. He needed to catch up. But then his eye spotted the e-mail from Bowden.
Hesitating, Spencer thought about deleting it—considered not reading it at all. But then he clicked it open.
Hey Two Spence,
Thought you’d like to see this family photo Granddad snapped at Rita’s birthday. You haven’t seen all of us in a long time and I thought you might enjoy a family shot.
Bowden proceeded to chat away about family doings and the Jackson business. He wrote as though he and Spencer were friends who communicated frequently, when the opposite was so and always had been. They never e-mailed congenially like this.
Spencer drummed the desk with his fingers in irritation. What did Bowden want? Why was he suddenly calling and e-mailing like this? His eyes went back to the e-mail.
Look how my two boys are growing, Spence. Trevor is nine now and Austin is seven. Trevor looks a lot like me, and Granddad. Acts like us, too. Everybody says so. Austin looks more like Geneva. Blond, fair. He’s a quiet, gentle kind of kid. Granddad said he should have been a girl. Acts a lot like you used to. Likes strays and weird girls for friends, can’t catch a football for crap, and likes to roam around out in the woods.
Spencer scowled. Why was he doing this? Talking about Geneva? Talking about his kids? Spencer had never even seen his nephews. Didn’t even know them.
He’d cherished no desire to see Geneva cradling Bowden’s babies against her breast. Children that should have been his.
I’m trying to catch you up on the family so you’ll feel easier with us when you come home later for the folks’ anniversary. I told Mom and Dad that you were going to try to make it. They’re really looking forward to seeing
Let’s look back on all the good times. Bowden
What good times? Spencer’s fingers itched to delete the picture and message. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead, he printed it out. He even stuck a piece of photo paper into the printer for better quality.
Flicking off the computer with annoyance, Spencer carried the photograph back over to the couch to study it. The dog padded after him, sitting down and gazing up at Spencer with concern. Zeke could always tell when something was bothering him. Shepherds were good at reading emotion.
“My parents look older, Zeke.” Spencer talked to the dog to calm him. “My father has more gray hair and there are streaks of gray in my mother’s hair now.” Spencer smiled, touching the picture. His mother had her hair pulled back in the traditional bun she favored, and she was wearing her pearls. She’d always loved those for formal occasions.
Spencer’s eyes moved over the picture. “Rita looks good. I guess she must have turned twenty-six at this birthday.” He did the math in his mind and nodded.
Zeke pricked his ears up, as if carefully listening.
“Rita was only fourteen when I started college.” He paused, remembering. “She threw her arms around me and cried when I left. I didn’t see her again until she turned eighteen. She came down with Mother and Dad for my college graduation in Savannah. But she couldn’t come when my parents came a few years later for the big Chatsworth reunion. She was in the middle of her culinary school.”
He petted the dog, letting his mind drift. “Rita always loved to cook—and especially to bake and decorate cakes. That’s what she does now with the business. I hear she’s greatly prospered that aspect of the catering business working with Mother.”
Spencer studied the photo again.
Despite the years that had passed, Rita still had that fresh, happy face. Being the youngest and the only girl, she hadn’t felt the pressure from the family to continue in the family business as Spencer and Bowden had or to excel in every endeavor. He’d even heard his mother say that if Spencer had been a girl instead of another boy, she wouldn’t have borne any more children. It seemed like he’d always been introduced as “the middle son.” Here is our oldest son, Bowden, our little charmer, and our youngest daughter, Rita, and this is our middle boy, Spencer.