I thought he was joking at first. Why that house? I struggled to remember its layout and its proximity to the beach. It was a nice house, but it didn’t necessarily stand out over any of the others we had seen. I scanned the pictures on realtor.com and picked LCB’s brain to remember more of it.
LCB remained convinced that we should put in an offer, so the two of us went back and forth about the amount to offer. We settled on a number and called our realtor. This was promptly rejected.
LCB questioned whether we should raise our offer a bit, but I was a little uncomfortable with that. After some deliberation, we decided not to counter. On one hand, we needed a place to live, but on the other hand, we’d never been “have to have that house” kind of people. This was back during the real estate boom, so while there was buyer pressure, it was also hard to assign a solid value to most properties. Particularly with beach homes, prices were fluctuating wildly. Plus, there didn’t seem to be a shortage of rentals if we needed to go that route for a while. In the end, we didn’t want to force something that wasn’t meant to be. So we waited, and continued to scan the market from afar while working from the Midwest.
A week or so later, LCB pulled me into his office, shut the door, and gave me his serious look. Our realtor had just called; the seller now wanted to accept our offer. At first, I thought my husband was indulging in a pastime favorite I call “messing with my wife’s head.”
But he wasn’t, and a few weeks later, we loaded up our minivan and headed south again, toward our closing on that very house. We stopped in the mountains for the first night of the trip, and we stayed in a hotel just off-island the next night, intending to close on the house the following morning. However, as we were getting ready to leave the hotel that next morning, LCB’s phone rang. Sadly, the loan officer scheduled to do our closing had just experienced the death of a parent. LCB extended our condolences, and then we waited. We assumed this meant they might have to delay our closing until later in the day when another officer could manage to fit us in. So we drove around the island, in limbo, expecting a call any minute. After hours of suspense, however, we were told that the closing would not happen that day.
LCB and I sat in our van and just stared at each other, stunned into silence. This was something we clearly hadn’t anticipated. Here we were now, rendered briefly homeless in our failed attempt at finally buying our home on the beach. Thankfully, we didn’t have a moving truck with our things waiting; to this day, I have no idea what we would have done in that scenario.
It was now mid-afternoon, and steady rains had hit the island. The sky was graying, and the wind was strong, bending palm trees and driving the rain diagonally. Before anything else, we needed to find a place to stay for the night, so we drove around looking for hotels. After securing a room, we moved our luggage inside, and went to look for somewhere to eat. LCB pulled the minivan in front of a small, distressed-looking restaurant in town. I squinted at him and gave him a thumbs-down look.
“Maybe we should try this place,” he nodded at the restaurant while rendering his own self suddenly stupid so he could not read the look I was giving him. I looked hopefully at a couple others nearby, but humored him by running out onto the front porch to peek inside. Looking through the smudged front windows, I tried to skim the retro-looking menu board hanging above a small wooden bar area at the back of the restaurant. Every item that could be fried was. The whole place looked, to my eye, a little rough-around-the-edges in several regards.
LCB is more food-adventurous than I am. In his business world travels, he’s eaten things I wouldn’t have known were even edible. There are probably at least twenty things he’s eaten over the years that frighten me almost as much as chocolate shortages and these weird, seemingly government-issued duck crossing signs that appeared on one of our roadways (in a spot where I have never seen any wild life at all ever).
So while he was ready to bring the boys in, I made my way back to the car having decided we would try somewhere else. As I stepped in the passenger door and shut it, a man dressed in rugged work clothes came walking out toward us. Realizing he was intending to speak to us, I rolled down the window.
“Hey, I saw you looking at the restaurant just now. It’s nothing fancy or anything, but if you just want a decent burger for a good price, it’s a good place to go.” He shrugged, and added, “I eat here all the time, and it’s a decent place. For what it’s worth.” He nodded and we thanked him, and he turned and began walking away. LCB and I looked at each other.
I thought for a minute. True, food poisoning would be a definite setback, but the man’s honesty and loyalty moved me. And we had come because we wanted to live by the beach, yes, but also because we wanted to experience a new place, as it was, on all of its own terms. That man, who took time out of his day to speak to strangers, could soon be one of our neighbors. I was, as they say, persuaded. So we tried the decent burgers (they were pretty much that), and while we waited for our food, I examined a dark, wood-paneled wall near us filled with various saying and drawings and photographs of the island. Amid all these was a small framed piece titled “The Secret of Life.” I don’t remember what the secret was, but I remember standing there smiling, thinking of all the quests made over the span of humanity to answer that very question, when some soul had posted the answer, for all to see, on a wall of a run-down restaurant in the middle of a obscure island just off the Carolina coast.
When we returned to our room, the skies continued to darken, the rain grew heavier, and distant thunder rumbled. I looked out our window and noticed that a newly planted palm tree next to some new construction had blown over in the wind. If I sat still, I could feel the hotel, on pilings, swaying with the wind’s force. Water was pooling on some of the streets and sidewalks, and I wondered if this was common on the island. Given all that had transpired and all that had not, I sat awake long into the night, thinking.
The next morning brought more bad news; the mortgage company still wasn’t ready to close. It felt like an episode of the Twilight Zone, but without the science part or the fiction part or any creepy music whatsoever.
I wasn’t relishing the idea of another day in the hotel, and I couldn’t imagine why there needed to be an additional delay. It seemed cavalier on the part of the mortgage company, putting our lives on hold and thinking nothing of the additional expenses we were accumulating nor of whether or not we (and potentially others in similar positions) could afford them.
Fortunately, our realtor stepped in at this point and asked us, “Hey, we’ve got a cottage you can use, just down the road from the one you’re trying to buy. Would that make things easier?”
Yes ma’am, it would, and so off we went, thinking this would be a one-day stay. We picked up a bag of groceries on the way to the cottage and unloaded our luggage (for the fourth time in four days) into a small, second row cottage with a large front deck. LCB, who needed to be working, set up a makeshift office in one room in the cottage, and managed as well as he could. I induced the boys to take long naps so he could work uninterrupted. Later in the afternoon, we explored the beach. In the evening, we walked all around the surrounding neighborhoods until it was long dark, exploring side streets and critiquing beach house names. After the boys were in bed, we sat out on the deck and watched the ocean just across the street.
We both felt it: This was home, this little island we’d discovered. All we wanted to do was make it official.
But the next morning brought with it no relief. As the day wore on, a closing looked unlikely yet again, and the weekend was approaching. The whole thing felt unreal, and while we were certain about our island, we couldn’t help but wonder if this house was meant to be.