If we hear back by morning, do you want to go?” asked my husband, Chris. He was sitting in the bed next to mine in one of the saddest hotel rooms I’d seen in a long time. We were in the outskirts of Jacksonville, North Carolina, on a five-day road trip down the Atlantic Coast, hunting for the beach house of our dreams.
Trouble was, all we’d seen since landing in Virginia Beach was one long row of stilted houses teetering at the edge of the continent and invading the delicate ecosystem of sand dunes. Nearly all of them flaunted For Rent signs.
Chris had firmly established in our many dream-house discussions over the years that our winter home had to have a view of the ocean. But he’d never stipulated we’d have to sit smack dab in the dunes waiting to get washed out to sea.
“I don’t like the feel of these places,” I’d said earlier that day as we cruised through a North Carolina Mecca for spring-breakers. “How can you have a tight-knit community when nearly every single place is for rent?”
Community wasn’t a nonnegotiable for Chris the way it was for me. Even so, he hadn’t been keen on the vibe either. By the third night of the road trip, worn out and deflated, we were prepared to pull the plug on the whole beach house dream.
But Chris being Chris, he was still looking for a longshot. As I pulled the suspicious bedspread off my bed and onto the floor, he got out his iPad. I slipped into the scratchy, overbleached sheets and switched off the lamp.
“Hold on,” Chris said. “I think I found a place.” I turned the lamp back on and he showed me a satellite image of islands dotting the South Carolina coast like seashells on a beach. “This island here,” he said pointing to the smallest shell. “It looks pretty undeveloped—as in I don’t think they even have paved roads. It looks cool!”
He handed me the iPad and I zoomed in on the island. Sure enough, there weren’t many structures, and every single one facing the ocean sat way back from the water’s edge, giving the dunes and their wild inhabitants plenty of space to do their thing.
“Well, I can tell they’re smart at least,” I said and handed the iPad back. “But how does a person get there and do they even have any houses for sale?”
Chris was quiet for a moment. Googling. “According to the website, it’s private,” he said. “You can’t get there without an invitation from an owner, and you have to take a ferry. But it looks like there’s a Realtor there, a woman named Judy. I can email her and see if we can look at some houses.”
The place did seem different. But the thought of one more day of disappointment put a pit in my stomach. “I don’t know. It means losing a day with the ferry and all that, and we still have to get to Saint Augustine.”
“I know. But we’re here. We may as well make the most of it. I’ll email her right now. If we hear back before we leave in the morning, do you want to go?” The thrill of the hunt had returned. I could see the gleam in his eye.
I weighed the pros and cons. Worst case scenario: we’d spend the day touring another hollowed-out community and feeling vaguely depressed. Best case: we’d find the beach house and community of our dreams. “OK, why not,” I said and turned out the light.
Chris’s face glowed in the blue light of the screen. He was already pecking out an email to Judy. As I closed my eyes and waited for sleep, I wondered what in the world an American island with no paved roads would be like.