River Birch Lodge is local paragon located on Robinhood Road in Winston Salem, North Carolina. One of my favorite things about the restaurant is the atmosphere. Nestled in an old neighborhood, the charm of the rustic historical lodges River Birch brings to the area really does add to the dining experience. The wait staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and the management is personable and open—especially to events. As they say on the website, “With towering ceilings of 100 year old yellow heart pine, large stone fireplaces, a comfortable back porch, family friendly bar, and a signature handcrafted chandelier, River Birch Lodge draws on natural mountain grandeur to provide you with a comfortable and casual dining experience.”
Local color: <3 <3 <3 <3 Food: <3 <3 <3 <3
“The décor in here; it’s just so, so, adorable,” Lilly pointed to a spot above Chris’ head even as she shook her head back and forth like a mechanical doll. “Is that a papoose?”
Chris followed her gaze, then looked back at her wide-eyed innocent expression which seemed, at least to him, a bit overdone for a discussion of restaurant décor. Still, Lilly was great—good company and pretty in a baby doll kind of way. Her eyes were too big for her face, but it suited her. Her tight chestnut curls framed her face then spilled beautifully down her back, and he had to admit he loved the feel of it sliding through his fingers. Even now he found himself wanting to run his hands through it.
What’s more, Lilly genuinely liked him. Just him.
“Yeah, I think,” he said before lifting the glass of house Cabernet to his lips. It slid smoothly down his throat, drinking nicely after a long week. He’d spent most of it avoiding Lucy and the rest of it trying to convince himself he liked Lilly. And he’d been fighting with a particularly combative patient in the rehab center. “There are some skis in the corner there. Look like cross country, maybe replicas from the early turn of the 20th century.”
“Oooh,” her eyes nearly swallowed her face as she followed his gaze.
Chris resisted the urge to roll his eyes as he buttered a piece of bread. There was nothing wrong with Lilly—she just wasn’t Lucy.
“You seem like a real outdoorsy kind of guy,” she said oblivious to his musings. “Do you ski?”
“Not well. I’ve been once or twice. Last time I nearly took myself and a friend off the side of the mountain,” Chris smiled to himself, remembering the infuriated indignation flashing across Lucy’s face as she picked herself up out of the snow. A trip to forget the past, move on from Pete—but Lucy hadn’t been ready then. At least that’s what he told himself.
“Yikes,” Lilly laughed. “Ouch.”
“Yeah, ouch is right,’ Chis murmured, thinking less about the skiing and more about Lucy herself. “I’m much more of a water sportsman. Kayaks, water skis, surfing.”
“You surf?” she perked up. Chris could see the image in her mind and he hid his amusement behind he wine glass.
“Much better than I ski,” he said.
“Then you might be better at snowboarding. My brother says they use a lot of the same techniques for both. He’s been on the amateur surf circuit in California for a couple of years now.”
“Really?” Chris lifted a brow, more attentive now. “Does he want to go pro?”
“I think he’d like to,” Lilly leaned back as the waiter sat her Very Berry Salmon Salad in front of her. “Looks delicious. Thank you so much.”
Chris mentally put a check in the plus column for Lilly. He loved how nice and polite she was when they went out, and was about to comment when the waiter sat his on French Dip Beef and Brie Panini in front of him and his phone rang at the same time.
“Thanks man,” he said, reaching in his pocket to check the infernal device to make sure everything was alright at the hospital before putting it on vibrate. “Sorry, Lil,” he said.
“It’s no problem,” she nodded, not even looking up from the salad as she cut through it with her knife. “I know the price I pay for dating a doctor.”
Chris frowned as he looked at his sister’s number flashing across the screen. Katie didn’t usually call him, but she’d leave a message. He hit ignore before answering Lilly. “I’m not exactly a doctor you know.”
She shrugged, “Occupational therapist is pretty close.”
“I wouldn’t tell the guys who spend all that time in med school that,” Chris laughed, and picked up his sandwich, dipping it into the sauce. No sooner had he done so than his phone began buzzing in his pocket again. He frowned, dropped the sandwich and stared down at it.
“Why don’t you just take it?” Lilly said after swallowing a very small bite of her salad.
“It’s my sister,” Chris hit ignore again. “I don’t know why she doesn’t just text me.”
“Speaking as a sister,” Lilly said. “I would say don’t question it, just answer the phone.” She pointed her phone at him. He shrugged and took a bite of his sandwich. And then Katie called, again.
Now he was worried.
“I’m sorry, Lilly. Something must really be wrong. Will you excuse me?” He stood and walked toward the front of the restaurant away from the diners to answer. “Katie, this better be—“
“Shut up and listen, Chris,” Katie was breathing heavily. “They just took Lucy to the hospital in an ambulance. They couldn’t get ahold of her sister so they called me. I’m in New Orleans on a business trip, but I’m looking for flights back now. Can you get to the hospital? I don’t know what’s going on and they won’t tell me anything on the phone. I’m trying to get ahold of TJ, but he’s not—“
“I’m on my way, Katie. I’ll call you when I get to the hospital.”
“Thank God,” he heard her voice crack. “Chris I—“
“I know Katie. She’ll be OK,” he said even as he pulled his wallet out of his pocket. He stopped at the hostess station on his way back to his seat. “I need two to-go boxes at our table please. We have to leave now. It’s an emergency.”
He didn’t wait for the response, as he practically ran back to the table. “Lilly, I’m sorry to cut this short, but I have to go to the hospital now. It’s an emergency.”
The waiter appeared behind him with two to-go boxes. Chris handed them to Lilly, who stared at him dumbly as he pulled out money and threw it on the table. Stuffing his sandwich in one of the boxes, he impatiently waited for Lilly to pack up her salad.
“Is your sister okay?” Lilly managed as she closed the lid to the to-go box.
“Yeah, she’s okay. It’s,” Chris hesitated. He wasn’t sure why he didn’t want to tell Lilly it was Lucy in the hospital but something inside him held back. “It’s just a friend of ours. Katie is out of town and they won’t tell her anything on the phone. I need to go to the ER and see what I kind find out—just to make sure everything is okay.”
He was careful to avoid pronouns.
Lilly studied him, but said little as she followed him out to the car.
When they pulled into her driveway, Lilly leaned over and pulled his head down toward her until he could feel her breath on his cheek, “I hope your friend is okay.” Her whisper wrapped around him, disappearing into a supple, possessive kiss. Chris relaxed into the kiss, nearly forgetting his urgency, even as Lilly pulled back and then swayed her way into her house leaving him more confused than ever.