Maggie hadn’t returned my texts all day, nor answered her phone when I called. She wasn’t scheduled to work that evening since it had been the first day of school and Braden wanted her to focus on that.
She was obviously mad at me, but I wasn’t sure what made her more angry, my deception about being homeless, or my fighting.
I couldn’t believe I lost my temper like that. Who cares what an idiot like Rocky Carlisle thinks or says?
The next morning, I waited near Maggie’s locker to catch her before going to her first class. She walked down the hall flanked by two girls I recognized from our junior year but couldn’t remember their names. I was glad she’d made friends, especially since I hadn’t been there for her on her first day of school.
Her hair was pulled back in a curly ponytail and she wore a miniskirt that showcased her tanned and toned legs. Years of surfing had created a body worth sculpting out of the finest clay or painting using a limited-edition Benicci brush.
I approached her cautiously as she turned the dial and opened the lock. She shoved two textbooks in her locker and held a third book in her hand to take with her to first hour. She purposely ignored me as I stood behind her.
“Are you mad at me because I got in a fight? or because I’m homeless?” I didn’t mean to say that loud enough for the people who were around Maggie to hear me, but unfortunately they did. She turned to me with vitriol in her eyes.
“Do you seriously think I’m shallow enough to be mad at you for being homeless?”
Bad choice of words on my part. “Well, mad at me for being deceptive about being homeless.”
“Yeah that ticked me off a little bit.” Maggie shifted her gaze then glared at me again. “But no, I was mad at you for getting in fight.”
“I’m sorry about that.” I lowered my gaze in shame and noted my scruffy Birkenstocks in contrast with her brand new Keds. “I won’t get in a fight again. I just lost my temper.”
“That’s the thing, Chad, my father always told me not to get in a relationship with a guy who fights because eventually he will turn the fight on you.” Her dad had a good point.
Panic in my heart took over. This wasn’t going well. “What do you want me to do? Take some anger management classes? I’ll do anything to keep you in my life.”
Some of her new friends were listening intently and I really wanted this conversation between the two of us.
“Can we go and talk someplace more private?”
Maggie looked around at her friends and agreed. She didn’t allow me to take her hand, but she did walk with me down towards the gym where we could at least have quiet even if people could still see us.
I leaned against the wall and folded my arms across my chest, and she looked over my shoulder purposely not meeting my gaze. She clutched her book to her chest. Closed off and not willing to hear what I had to say.
“Look, Maggie, you know me better than anyone in this whole world. You know me better than my father, obviously better than my mother because she died when I was five.” I chuckled ironically. “You know me better than my grandparents. You know me better than any friend I’ve ever had. Have I ever been violent?”
“Chad, I have known you for less than a month. I have no idea whether you have ever been violent.” Her words cut to my heart. She was right in so many ways. “No. You have never been violent around me. But we haven’t known each other long enough for me to know if this is the real you. If you’re willing to hide something as big as you being homeless what else are you hiding?”
“I can’t think of anything else I’m hiding from you.” I leaned in closer, but I didn’t reach out for her. I didn’t want her to think that I was infringing on her personal space. I wanted her to be a part of my life, but only if she chose to be a part of my life. “Maggie, I have fallen in love with you so hard I can’t possibly think of my life without you. You are the one.”
“What does that even mean Chad?” Sarcasm entered her voice and I felt her mentally pushing me away. “Do you think that I am the love of your life? Do you think that as seventeen-year-olds we’re going to make decisions that will affect the rest of our lives?”
“We are already making decisions that will affect the rest of our lives,” I argued. “We have made some really good decisions since we met. Believe me, I have been tempted by you more times than I’m willing to admit.”
My mind shifted to the pocket of my cargo shorts, reminding me how true that statement was.
“So far I have been able to resist doing things with you that I only dream about. If that’s not making good decisions that will affect the rest of our lives, I can’t think of anything else that is.”
Her stance softened a bit, but she still kept her arms tightly wrapped around her book.
“I’m working to get into college and working to make enough money that I’ll be able to support you if we choose to get married someday.” My voice lowered with vulnerability and longing. “I don’t ever want you to think that you can’t have the lifestyle you’re used to just because you marry a goofy, surfing artist who only wants to surf half the day, and draw pictures every waking hour after that.”
I lowered my voice. Not that I thought anyone else would hear us, but she needed to know that surfing and drawing weren’t the only things on my mind.
“And a large part of my consciousness wants to make love to you for the rest of the day. But I don’t think we’re ready for that yet.”
“Well that’s something we agree on.” Maggie finally met my gaze. “But I hope you don’t think I’m so shallow that I wouldn’t marry you just because you’re poor. I don’t care what lifestyle I am used to living. When I make the decision to get married it is going to be for love not for money. But again, we’re not old enough to make that kind of decision when we’re seventeen years old and in high school.”
“I agree.” I nodded. “But I’m going to live my life in a way that I am worthy of you, if you are the person who chooses to become my wife. And in the process, if you are not the love of my life, I will be making myself worthy for whoever does become my wife. I really kinda hope that’s you.” My voice softened to a pleading whisper.
“I know you do,” she said. “I’m just not ready to make those kinds of long-term commitments.”
“How about this,” I suggested. “Can you make a commitment to go to dinner with me tonight?
“Tonight is a school night and I have homework. But I will be willing to go out to dinner with you on Friday after work if you promise not to get in any fights between now and then.”
“I promise not to get in any fights between now and Friday.” I held up my hand to claim scout’s honor.
“Okay, do you wanna walk me to my first class?” she asked. “I don’t want to be late. And you shouldn’t be late for your first class, which should have been yesterday.”
“Yeah, I need to go apologize to my teachers, don’t I?”
“I would say so, yes.”
“Can I hold your hand on the way to class?”
“That I can do.”
And that she did.
I asked Maggie to meet me in the parking lot at school so we could walk in together. I had been in her shoes one year ago and no one had escorted me in the door. I wasn’t the only surfer, so I didn’t really look out of place.
The school was lucky I buttoned my shirt and wore khaki shorts rather than a swimsuit. I refused to give up my Birkenstocks and I was one of the few people who didn’t go out of his way to get dressed in fancy, brand new clothes. My backpack was last year’s and ratty, but I didn’t care. I wondered if Maggie cared.
“Got a question for you,” I asked Maggie as I took her hand. “Does it bother you that I’m a little… uh…”
“Eccentric?” She giggled. “No, it doesn’t bother me.” She didn’t shy away from me as we walked together through the parking lot, past the fancy Volvos and Chargers kids in Santa Monica seemed to drive.
I held the door open for her and we walked into school together, expecting to be swallowed into the stream of students searching for their lockers and first classrooms, expecting anonymity, not expecting a jealous bully to be just inside the door with a group of his friends.
Other surfers I would expect would welcome me into their group. Other surfers would welcome Maggie. She and I had been surfing the Santa Monica beach together for weeks. This group of kids would have accepted us with open arms if Rocky hadn’t been a jerk.
“Hey, Bunny, you still hangin’ out with that homeless bastard who lives in his daddy’s van at the surf shop?” Rocky asked, too loud not to be heard. He pushed away from where he was leaning against the wall and leered at Maggie. “When y’er ready to come be with a real man, let me know.”
“You cockroach.” I didn’t mean to get in a fight on the first day of school. But I’d been mad at him since he was a jerk to my new girlfriend the night we met. I didn’t hesitate to shove Rocky into the lockers and haul back to lay one on his jaw. He pushed back and had me by the throat up against the lockers on the other side of the hallway.
I was vaguely aware of people in the periphery cheering us on, telling us to stop, begging us to stop, crying, yelling. Eventually the people talking were more authoritative and that caught my attention enough to pull back and stop swinging. I tasted blood on my lips as the principal led me away, presumably to his office.
He instead led me to the nurse’s office to get my face cleaned. I leaned over the sink in the nurse’s office to rinse out my mouth, having resisted the urge to spit blood in the hallway.
By the time the nurse had gotten me marginally cleared of blood, given me some ice for my lip, and instructed me to head over to the urgent care to see if I needed stitches, Buddy was waiting in the principal’s office, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed.
The principal closed the door to his office and Buddy stayed against the wall, an expression on his face that I couldn’t read.
“Sit down,” Mr. Beeson instructed.
I lowered into the chair and averted my eyes from either of them.
“Great way to start the first day of school, Mr. Briggs.”
I didn’t answer him. What was I supposed to say? Thank you? I’m sorry?
“From my thirty years’ experience as a high school administrator, I can assure you that I’ve heard every excuse in the book for fighting. But I can also tell you that most people who throw the first punch are provoked.”
“That’s still no excuse for fighting,” Buddy grumbled.
“Would you like to tell me what Mr. Carlisle said that set you off?”
“Not really,” I mumbled.
“Let me rephrase that question.” Mr. Beeson cleared his throat. “Please explain to me exactly what Mr. Carlisle said that set you off.”
I took a deep breath then glanced up at Buddy. “He called me a bastard.”
Mr. Beeson chuckled. “Seeing as how your father’s standing right here, I guess he wasn’t using the word in the derogatory sense.”
“Yes, he was,” Buddy confirmed, lifting his chin. “My son and I have been separated most of his life and kids say mean things when a kid doesn’t have a daddy.”
“Well, I have a daddy now and that’s all that matters, right?” I tried to sound optimistic.
“There has to be more to the story then…” Mr. Beeson let his statement hang in the air.
“He hit on my girlfriend right in front of me, called her Bunny, and told everyone that I’m homeless.”
“Is that true?” Mr. Beeson glanced at Buddy. “Is your family homeless? We have programs to help.”
“No!” Buddy and I insisted at the same time.
“He and my stepmom have a house. I just don’t choose to live there. I like my freedom. I like my van.”
“You live in a van?” Mr. Beeson raised his eyebrows.
“It’s more like a rolling art exhibit. I painted it with all kinds of drawings and stuff.”
“It’s really cool,” Buddy confirmed.
“I’ll have to check it out,” Mr. Beeson said, rocking back in his chair. “Right now, I’ve got to figure out what to do with you. First things first. I believe the nurse asked you to go get your injuries looked at by a doctor. Come back tomorrow morning and start classes like you should have done today. I’ll be talking to Mr. Carlisle and his parents in a little while. Consider this your one and only warning.”
“Yes, sir.” I rose from my chair and Buddy shook Mr. Beeson’s hand, thanking him. We left Mr. Beeson’s office and headed out the front door of the school.
“Come on, I’ll drive you to the urgent care,” Buddy said. “You’re still a minor so you won’t be able to be seen without my signature.”
“Hadn’t thought of that,” I said.
“Yeah, what would you have done if I hadn’t been here?”
“I dunno. Called my grandparents, I guess.”
“I’m glad I’m here.” He wrapped his arm around my shoulder.
“I’m glad you’re here too… Dad.” That felt so good to say. Bastard. Hmpf, I can’t believe Rocky called me that. I’m no bastard. I’ve got a daddy right here. And he was here to stay.
“Can you take a fifteen-minute break?” I asked Maggie but glanced at her manager, Braden for permission. “I want to introduce you to someone.”
Braden glanced at the clock on the wall. I’d planned my request well. The Surf & Sub shop was experiencing a much-deserved lull between the lunch rush and the dinner rush.
“We’ll just be across the street at the surf shop,” I reassured him.
“I’ll keep one eye on the restaurant and hurry back over here if we get swamped,” Maggie said, untying her apron.
“Alright. See you in a few.” Braden leaned against the counter, not much for him to do since Maggie kept the place spotless and well-stocked.
I took her hand as we hurried across the busy street and pulled her under the awning of Buddy’s Surf Shop where I made a bee line for the man restocking the shelves.
“Hey, kids, what’s up?” Buddy climbed down from the small stepladder.
“I wanted to formally introduce you to my girlfriend, Maggie.”
He had a gleam in his eye as he reached for Maggie’s hand. “Hello, Maggie.”
“We’ve already met.” Maggie was cautiously suspicious.
“Maggie, I’d like to introduce you to… my dad.”
“I knew it!” Maggie jumped up and down. “Didn’t I call it? I knew he had to be your dad. You look like twins.”
“Seventeen-year difference, actually.” Buddy wrapped his arm around my shoulders.
“Seventeen?” Maggie’s jaw dropped. “You were young.”
“Too young,” Buddy confirmed.
“So… your mom…” Maggie kind of pointed over her shoulder in the general direction of Fresno where, just yesterday we had visited my mom’s grave.
“—was my high school sweetheart,” Buddy said.
“And how did you figure this out?” Maggie asked. “We just talked about this the other night and you said he wasn’t your dad.”
“You talked about me?” Buddy turned to me with a grin.
“Yeah, the night she ruined my hair.” I reached up and ran my hand through my scruffy locks.
“It’s startin’ to grow back,” Buddy said. “Almost looks normal again.”
“Hey, I did you a favor,” she said. “There was a year of grime built up on your scalp. That’s not even healthy.”
“Just a l’il salt water and sand and natural oils,” I defended.
“It’s gross,” she said.
“Anyway, he told me last night when I got home from visiting mom.” I didn’t mention he was plastered drunk at the time. “Apparently, he has known since day one.”
“And you… never told Chad?” She raised her eyebrows, mildly chastising him.
“How do you bring up a topic like that?” He shrugged. “Hey, man, I’m pretty sure I knocked up your mom sixteen years ago and then moved out of town and never knew you existed. You wanna go surfing with me?”
“Guess that’s why you gave me free surfing lessons, huh?”
“Least I could do, man.” He held up a fist and we bumped knuckles.
“Anyway,” Maggie said. “You guys are weird, and I have to get back to work.”
“I’ll walk you back over,” I said, taking Maggie’s hand again.
“See ya, Maggie.” Buddy called out as he was heading back toward his ladder.
As we were walking back to the Surf & Sub shop, we walked slower than we had on the way over. “So, uh, seventeen. Wow.”
“Yeah, that’s our age.” I gulped. “Can’t imagine.”
“I’m glad we’re waiting,” Maggie said quietly.
“Me too.” I brought our adjoined hands up and kissed the back of her hand.
“Woulda been really easy to get caught up in the moment, huh?” she said.
“Too easy,” I agreed.
“Thank you for being strong for both of us,” Maggie said, then lowered her voice until it was almost inaudible. “I would have said yes.”
That’s all we said. I gave Maggie a quick kiss before she headed back into the sub shop to finish her shift and I went across the street to the surf shop to finish mine.
Buddy didn’t show up for work the next morning so I opened the shop by myself. A couple of tourists bought T-shirts that read Buddy’s Surf Shop, along with a large sand umbrella and a bottle of sunscreen.
A surfer came in the back and propped up his board then gave it a good waxing, mumbled something to me and was out the door again.
At five minutes to noon, Lili’s car pulled up and Buddy got out the passenger side wearing a ball cap and sunglasses.
I finished running a credit card for a customer buying a cold bottle of water before Buddy approached me.
“Sorry I hada little too much to drink last night,” Buddy said. He kept his sunglasses on even though he was under the awning.
“Happens once or twice a year, I understand.” I cleared my throat, not sure what else to say.
“Just once a year,” he corrected me.
“If I was old enough, I’d probably get plastered once a year too,” I mumbled.
“Shaela was the love of my life, Rick.” Buddy’s words were quiet, reflective. “Lili knows that. I’m not sayin’ you can’t fall in love again after you lose the one. But she’ll always be the one.”
“I’m a little ticked off at her for keeping me from you,” I admitted.
“Yeah, I’m a little ticked off at her too.” Buddy finally pulled off his sunglasses revealing bloodshot eyes tinged with sorrow and regret. “How did you find me anyway?"
“I found a postcard in my mom’s top drawer with the Santa Monica pier on one side and the words, ‘I miss you,’ on the other. There was no return address, but it was signed with the initials RS.”
“My first name’s Robert,” Buddy said.
“I needed to make a clean break from Fresno so I told my grandparents I was leaving and I left. The only clue I had to my mom’s past was that postcard. I never expected to actually find you.”
“When I met you, I figured out pretty quickly who you were and I went home and told Lili everything. She was so excited to meet you.”
“She was?” I remembered that day. I remembered the way she’d pulled me into her arms and held me like a long lost friend.
“She loved you ‘cause ya’r part’a me.”
“What about you?” I gulped. How many years of my life had I wished to have a father who loved me? Now that he was standing right in front of me, what would he say?
“I fell in love with your mom when we were in our early teens, and I’ll love her forever.” Buddy cleared his throat. “I guess, in a way, I’ve loved you since before I knew you existed.”
He loved me. I had a dad who loved me. My heart pounded in my chest.
“But this man standing in front of me is more than either of us could have dreamt.” Buddy shook his head then continued. “Watching you grow up this past year has been the greatest blessing I could ever ask for. I think seeing you fall in love woke me up that I need to be a better man. A better father. I’ve been your friend since day one. But what you needed was a father. I need to step up and be the father that you need. So, yeah, Rick, I love you. You’re the greatest son I never knew I had.”
“I needed you while I was growing up,” I said, tears falling unabashedly now. “But you were there for me when I needed you most. You gave me a home when I needed a home. You gave me the key to your business and trusted me with more responsibility than a sixteen-year-old should have. You taught me to surf. And you taught me a seriously important lesson hours before I was tested by temptation. I made good choices Friday night because you were there for me that evening. And I think… I love you too. And I think I’ve loved you for a long time. You’re a great dad.”
“Come here, kid.” Buddy pulled me into his arms, and we held each other like father and son, like the father and son we always had been. I just didn’t know it at the time.
“I still don’t understand why you call me Rick.” I pulled away and wiped my cheeks.
“Because that’s what your mom wanted,” he said. “And I want what she wants.”
“But she called me Chad.” Just as I said the words, I saw the irony behind his grin and knew why my mom called me Chad. “Because that’s what you wanted.”
Buddy patted me on the cheek and chuckled as a surfer came in from the back asking if our new shipment of wax had come in yet. We both looked up and Buddy turned to me. “My son can help you find the right box. I think the UPS shipment came this morning.”
“Yeah, it did. I’ll come help you.” My heart warmed at how good it felt to have Buddy call me his son. I turned around suddenly and glanced back to where he still stood by the cash register. “Thanks, dad.” He winked at me and I turned to follow the surfer, a giant grin on my face.
As I pulled into my parking space late Tuesday night, I noticed that Buddy’s car was still parked in his usual spot. There were no lights on in the surf shop. That’s when I noticed a lone figure sitting on the beach facing the ocean.
Buddy? What the heck was he doing out there?
After almost twelve hours of driving plus hanging out with my grandparents, I’d dropped Maggie off at her house just prior to Midnight. We’d had a fun but emotionally exhausting day. We’d connected on a deeper level, learning each other’s pasts, planning for the future.
I had planned to crash as soon I pulled into the shop, instead I tucked the key to my van in the pocket of my cargo shorts and trudged through the sand to find out what was wrong with Buddy. Maybe he and Lili had an argument. Maybe he was waiting for me.
“Buddy? What’chu doin’ out here?” When I sat beside him, Buddy didn’t look at me, just tipped back a bottle of something wrapped in a brown paper bag. “Are you drunk? Hey man, have you been crying?”
I’d never seen him drink before. Heck, I’d never seen him cry before either.
“Are you okay?” I asked softly. “Did you and Lili get in a fight or something?”
“Nah, she knows where I am. She knows what I’m doin’. And she knows why this day is hard on me every year.”
I wondered what he meant by that. Maybe he lost a friend once too. I remained quiet.
“Do you know why I always call you Rick?”
Odd question. “Uh… because everyone else calls me Chad and you wanted to be different.”
He laughed ironically and tipped his bottle again, then held it out to me. “You wanna sip?”
“Dude, I’m seventeen. I’m not old enough to drink.” I pushed the bottle away. “You should probably cut yourself off too.”
Buddy hurled the nearly empty bottle in the direction of the surf where it rested in the soft sand without breaking.
I’d go get it later and throw the thing away.
“Seventeen.” His chuckle was laced with sarcasm. “The year everything changed. My parents made me move with them down here to Santa Monica two weeks before my senior year of high school.
“She was furious. As if I had any choice. She blocked my phone number. And my parents’ phone numbers. And then, she up and moved. I didn’t even know her new address.”
“And then, when I found out about the accident, it was too late.”
“Who are you talking about?” My stomach was queasy as the pieces started falling into place.
“Alllll through our teenage years we joked about what we’d name our kids when we grew up and got married. ‘Cause, ya know, we were totally convinced we were gonna git married someday. Shaela always said, if we have a boy, I wanna name him Rick. And I insisted we should name him Chad.”
“Oh… my… gosh.”
“Chadrick.” Buddy laughed maniacally. “Creative play on words, Shaela!”
His call into the empty night was directed at my deceased mother. I could barely breathe.
“When I met you, I was like, dude, he looks just like I did when I was sixteen. And then you bought that cheap surfboard and ran your credit card and the receipt said Chadrick Briggs and I’m like, dude, seriously. Why didn’t she ever tell me?” Finally, Buddy swung his head in my direction. Tears ran down his face.
Tears ran down my face.
“I woulda been there, dude,” he said. “I woulda been there!” He yelled into the night then slumped his head and pulled his knees up and rocked like a crazy person or a baby in the fetal position. He sobbed.
I wrapped my arms around him and held him while he cried. A total and complete role reversal. “I know you woulda man. I know. I know.” I held him for a long time.
Eventually, Buddy stopped crying. One more quiet promise escaped as a drunk, tired mumble. “I woulda been there.”
“Come on. Let’s get you home.” I stood and helped him to his feet.
“I can’t drive, dude.” He allowed me to pull him, stumbling, up the beach toward where both of our cars were parked. “I’ll gist sleep on’th beach.”
I had no idea where his car keys were, so I helped him up into my van and shut the door. We only had a five-minute drive to his house but I’m pretty sure he passed out for a minute or two.
Lili was waiting in the doorway with the porch light on when I pulled into his driveway. She hurried down the steps to help me get Buddy from my van and standing on two feet.
“Found him this way on the beach,” I told her.
“Happens every year,” she said.
“Hey, baby,” Buddy slurred to his wife. “Have you met my son, Rick?”
“Yeah, honey, I’ve met him. Come on, let’s get you to your bed.”
“He’s sucha good kid, baby. Sucha good kid.”
Buddy stopped and looked at Lili with a resolute expression. “I woulda been there.”
“I know.” With tears running down her face, Lili helped me get Buddy into their bedroom and laid him down. She removed his sandals and tucked him under a blanket.
Before falling asleep he mumbled one more time, “I… woulda…b’there…”
Lili pulled me from the room and closed the door, then held me in her arms and we both cried.
“I figured I’d see you today,” my grandma said as she held open the back-porch door. “Oh, and you’ve brought a girl. Thought you’d never find a girlfriend. Come in. Come in.”
“Thanks for your confidence in me, Grandma.” I pulled her into a hug and held her for a long moment. She smelled like home. As the owner of Briggstone Herbs and Specialty Teas, an essence of incense and essential oils seemed to cling within every fiber of her clothes and hair.
My grandparents, Turner and Alice Briggs, were the reason the bullies at my old high school called me Briggstoner, even though I’d never even seen a joint until I stepped on the beach in Santa Monica. As far as I knew, neither had my grandparents. They claimed the reason grandma always burned incense was to cover the smell of manure from my grandpa’s organic gardening.
Maybe I was naïve to hold onto the notion that the herbs they grew for the specialty teas were respectable and legitimate and the only plants growing in their organic garden. Nothing to see here, officer, could I interest you in a cup of chai?
Their hippie reputations coupled with my mother and I sharing my grandparents’ last name created a tumultuous childhood for me. Calling me a stoner was a step above calling me a bastard, which I know they were all thinking.
The summer I turned sixteen, with my shiny new driver’s license in one hand and every dollar I’d saved from years of helping out at my grandparents’ small hobby farm in my other, I bought the coolest second-hand conversion van known to man, and took off for the beach. They didn’t even bat an eyelash.
My grandpa helped me check out the engine and brakes and alternator and hoses and fluids. He waved his grease monkey magic wand to make sure that baby was seaworthy before I headed for the sea.
My grandma helped me trick out the interior of the van so that it was as organized and efficient as a motorhome while still looking like a teenager’s ride. To a random passenger, such as my new girlfriend, the fact that one of the middle captain’s chairs had been removed was to fit my surfboard. And all the supplies in bins and boxes were for my art and surfing hobbies.
There was no evidence of the bedding I had tucked away in the spaces below where the stowaway seats used to be installed. The pantry food was carefully hidden, and the cooler was obviously there for sodas, rather than used as a refrigerator. Deceitful? Maybe. I just wasn’t ready to admit the truth.
“Grandma, I’d like you to meet my new girlfriend, Maggie.” I turned back toward Maggie. “This eccentric woman is my Grandma, Alice Briggs.”
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Briggs.” Maggie held out a hand.
“Oh, none of that. You call me Alice, and you come here and give me a hug.” Grandma pushed past me and gathered Maggie into her arms. I shrugged in apology, but Maggie hugged my grandma back with a smile in her eyes.
“Now I know where Chad gets his propensity toward hugging,” Maggie said.
“In my defense, you always hug me back,” I pointed out.
“True,” she said, pulling away from my grandma.
“Can we use your bathroom, raid your fridge and take off before dinner so we can get home at a decent hour?” I asked, knowing I was setting myself up for a home cooked meal.
“Bathroom, yes. Fridge raid, yes. Leaving before dinner, no. But I will start cooking now so that you can get back on the road at a decent hour.” My grandma turned on her heel and headed into the kitchen. “I take it you’ve already been to the cemetery?” she called over her shoulder.
“Of course.” The catch in my throat prevented me from saying more. I couldn’t go into details about the near-spiritual experience Maggie and I had while sitting in the freshly cut grass beside my mom’s headstone. I didn’t want to admit how we’d had an actual conversation introducing Maggie to my mom, even though she wasn’t physically there. I laced my fingers with Maggie’s and we shared a secret smile.
I wasn’t going to tell my grandma how I’d cried in my girlfriend’s arms for ten minutes then allowed my emotions to take me to such a vulnerable place that we made out in the grass on top of my mom’s grave. I wouldn’t tell her that we’d made out so passionately I’d been tempted to unwrap that little prophylactic zipped into the pocket of my cargo shorts. In broad daylight. On my mom’s grave. A landscaper on a lawn mower had snapped us out of our desire long enough to get our heads straight.
“What are you hungry for?” Grandma asked, already hauling locally grown produce from the refrigerator.
“Maggie’s a vegan.” That was all I needed to say.
My grandma was nothing if not predictable. She lifted her head and firmed her jaw. “I insist you marry this young lady.”
“Grandma, we’re seventeen and about to start our senior year of high school. We should probably wait a few years for that.”
“Eh, your mother was already pregnant for you when she was your age.” Grandma brushed off my concern and held some sort of root vegetable under running water at the sink.
“She was?” I pulled up a stool at the island bar in the middle of my grandma’s spacious farmhouse kitchen. Maggie climbed up on the stool beside me. “I thought my mom was in college when she had me.”
“Oh, she was. Do you want vegetable stir fry with homemade flatbread?”
“Uh, yeah, that sounds great.” I was confused but turned to Maggie. “Does that sound okay to you?”
“That sounds incredible,” Maggie said. “Can you come teach my mom how to cook like a vegan?”
“Veganism is a mindset.” Grandma nodded definitively. “Your mother needs to see the big picture in order to truly understand. I’ll send you home with some herbs.”
I wondered what was in those herbs that had the power to change someone’s mind and help them see the big picture, whatever that was. I shrugged at Maggie.
“Thank you so much.” Maggie shrugged back at me.
“Can we return to the discussion about my mother?” I asked. “Did she start college super young or something?”
“She was already dual enrolled and dropped out of her senior year of high school and just focused on college classes. She almost had her whole freshman year of college done before you were born in May. She was so mature for her age; she didn’t even look out of place being pregnant in college.”
“So, she was seventeen when she got pregnant?” There was that magic number again. Seventeen popped up into my world every time I was even tempted to take things too far with Maggie.
“Yep.” She began slicing vegetables, her lips pursed.
“Grandma—” my voice lowered and I hesitated. “—do you know who my father is? And why he abandoned me and mom?”
“He didn’t abandon you, Chad.” She held her knife still and met my eyes. “He never knew you existed.”
My stomach plummeted. “Why didn’t she tell him?”
“He moved before she found out she was pregnant for you. His dad got a new job or something and they moved. She was so mad she cried for days, burned the Teddy bear he’d given her when she was fifteen, and blocked his phone number.” Grandma resumed slicing vegetables.
“I met this guy at the beach who looks so much like me we could be brothers, and I kinda wondered if, maybe, the reason my mom didn’t stay with my dad was because he had kids with another woman or a wife or something and maybe… I have a brother.”
I couldn’t believe I’d admitted all that out loud. If Buddy were my brother, our dad would have had to been pretty old when he was with my mom. I shuddered with revulsion.
“Nah, your dad was young,” Grandma said. “Too young. Must be a doppelganger.”
“What’s a doppelganger?” I wasn’t sure if I was excited or disappointed that Buddy wasn’t my brother. On one hand, I was glad that my dad hadn’t been a creepy old man who was cheating on his wife when he was with my mom. But on the other hand, it would have been cool to have an older brother like Buddy. Didn’t matter. He was still like a best friend.
“A doppelganger is someone unrelated who looks so much like you that you could be twins. They say most people have a doppelganger somewhere on this earth.”
“That definitely sounds like you and Buddy.” Maggie chuckled.
“For sure.” My thoughts were swirling. “Hey, do you remember my dad’s name?”
“Robert something or another,” she said. “I don’t remember his last name. Hey, can you go out to the barn and find grandpa. Tell him dinner will be ready in about half an hour. He’ll want to get cleaned up.”
“Okay.” I slid off the stool and helped Maggie down from hers. One more piece of the puzzle that made up the incomplete picture of my past. Maybe now that I knew my dad’s first name… I could find him.
Three times in five days I tempted my ability to choose and nearly lost my resolve. Friday night had been easy compared to Saturday night. But Tuesday had been agony and we’d been saved by the lawn mower. Barely.
Saturday night I abandoned my easel without showing the finished drawing to its subject and climbed onto Maggie’s bed with her, pulling her into my arms and molding her lips to mine. My hands itched to reach higher up her waist where her bare midriff met with her bikini top, but I refrained. My body longed to press against hers, but I held back.
We didn’t kiss for very long. I didn’t trust myself. I didn’t trust her. I didn’t trust us.
I didn’t stay the night.
I drove back to Buddy’s Surf Shop at one in the morning, parked my van and unpacked my surfboard.
I ran, alone, down to the beach and into the cold water of the Pacific Ocean, threw myself onto my board and paddled as hard as my arms allowed.
I duck dove beneath the breaker and popped up ready to push further and further, much further than I should have ridden alone without a soul in the world who knew where I was or what I was doing.
Finally, I rolled onto my back and laid on my surfboard, letting the waves rock me gradually toward shore. A million stars shown down like glitter falling around me out of the inky black night.
When I felt the swell beneath me rise, I knew it was time to turn around and paddle along with the cresting wave, pop up onto my board with sure footing, and ride the high down the face of the wave nearly to the shoreline before I fell backward, drenching myself in cold water, hoping that was enough to cool my overheated body.
With barely enough energy to trudge up the beach to my van, I shoved my wet surfboard into place, hauled the bedding and pillow from its hiding spot, and collapsed. I slept long past dawn patrol Sunday morning.
Tuesday, I picked up Maggie just after breakfast. We had a four hour drive each way and if we wanted time to visit my mom’s grave before hanging out at my grandparents’ farm, we needed to get started early.
Maggie had a million questions for me on our way to Fresno, mostly about my mom, my grandparents, my school growing up, the farm where I’d been raised, my reasons for moving to Santa Monica. I vowed to spend the drive home asking her questions.
But this focus on my childhood as we drove north helped me get in the right frame of mind to park my van at the side of the one-lane road of the cemetery and walk all the way to where my mom’s headstone was tucked in the furthest reaches of the back corner.
Hidden from view of most of the other souls resting in the ground, I’d grown up thinking of this location as lonely. Now it felt isolated. And private. A place where I could break down and pour my heart out to my mother, the woman who had left me alone at the age of five.
Sure, I loved my grandparents, but I needed my mommy. Now I needed to let her go.
Maggie was here to help. She sat beside me, silent, holding my hand, no more questions. The heat of the day was shrouded by the giant sycamore that stood as sentinel in this far corner of the cemetery, providing just a little bit of shade.
“Maggie Hindle, I’d like to introduce you to my mother, Shaela Briggs,” I whispered. “Mom, this is my girlfriend, Maggie. I think you’re really gonna like her. She’s vegan and a pro surfer and seriously gorgeous.”
Maggie giggled and squeezed my hand. “Nice to meet you, Shaela. Your son is also seriously gorgeous but I’m disappointed to inform you that he has chosen to eat meat on a regular basis. I will spend the rest of my life trying to convert him. You have my word.”
“Mom don’t listen to a word she says. I only eat fish, sustainably caught. I promise.”
“He’s a pretty good surfer though, so at least he’s got that going for him.”
“Maggie’s even better than I am, Mom. Can you believe it? Actually, you’ve never seen me surf, so you wouldn’t know.”
“Shaela, you’ll be happy to learn that I washed your son’s hair. With shampoo and everything.”
“I looked ridiculous, Mom. But hey, Maggie taught me how to kiss that night, so the evening ended well.”
“He’s a really good kisser,” Maggie stage whispered, leaning closer to my mom’s headstone. “You probably didn’t want to know that. Him being your little boy and all.”
“Little boy—” My words caught in my throat. “I was so little. I don’t even remember the sound of her voice. I don’t remember how she smelled. I don’t remember how it felt to hold her hand.”
Maggie squeezed my hand gently and that set me over the edge. The tears flowed down my face and Maggie pulled me into her arms. I held her like my life depended on her. Or maybe she held me. Maybe we held each other.
No judgement. No shame. No calling me a baby for crying like one. No telling me to suck it up, or get over it, or grow up, or let go. She just held me.
And then she kissed me. And then I kissed her. And then we kissed each other. And then we didn’t stop kissing each other. And then we couldn’t stop kissing each other. And then our bodies were connected from lips to toe, lying together in the soft, manicured grasses on top of my mother’s grave.
That should have woken me up. That should have been morbid enough for me to stop making out with my girlfriend. For the first time since receiving that gift from Buddy I was beyond tempted to open the wrapper. My hands reached for places on Maggie’s body that they shouldn’t have been. My kisses left Maggie’s lips and landed on her chin and her throat and behind her ears.
Thankfully we were fully dressed, or our bodies would have made decisions that afternoon that reason wouldn’t allow. Thankfully we were fully dressed because that meant I had to consciously make an effort to choose if we were ready to go further. Thankfully we were fully dressed when the groundskeeper of the cemetery rounded that bend on his lawn tractor.
Parents are still out of town. Want to come back over after work? Maggie’s text read.
Saturdays were busy on the pier and at the sub shop so we would probably both get done working shortly after dark. Even with the lights over the pier, at a certain point in the twilight I had a hard time seeing well enough to accurately sketch human faces. I texted her back, Let me know when you get out of work and I’ll meet you at your house.
Bring your art stuff, she texted. I want you to draw me. Like for real. Not just on a napkin.
I will do anything you want, baby.
Good. I expect a passionate make-out session afterwards.
I laughed out loud at that one, catching the attention of passers-by. I grinned and held up my phone. “Funny text from my girlfriend. She wants me to draw her portrait later tonight.”
And just like that, I had a customer sit down and ask for a sketch. I think the college-age girl was hoping I’d abandon the portrait session with my girlfriend later and take her to dinner. I waited until after she paid me an exorbitant amount of money before telling her I was just starting my senior year of high school. She excused herself pretty quickly after that and I finally got around to texting Maggie back.
Sorry, had a customer. Your wish is my command.
She didn’t answer me right away, so I assumed she got busy. I focused on my work and didn’t notice a text come through again until I had just finished packing up my supplies.
Out of work. My feet hurt. Meet me at my house as soon as you’re able.
Be right there.
I anticipated her plans and brought my easel, sketchpad, charcoal pencils, sketching pencils, and erasers into her house with me along with a pair of sweats and my toothbrush. Now that I knew how much fun we could have making out, I was prepared.
She didn’t meet me at the door because I didn’t knock. Assuming her parents were still gone, I trudged up the stairs and found Maggie in her spacious bathroom pulling a pick through her curls. She had also applied lipstick, which I found ironic since most of it would wind up smearing onto my lips.
“You looked beautiful before,” I said, clearing my throat.
Maggie startled and turned around. “How’d you get in here?”
“The front door was unlocked.” I hitched my thumb over my shoulder. “I figured you were the only one here, so I didn’t bother knocking.”
“Good thinking.” She tossed her pick into the drawer and hurried over to give me a hug. “I can’t kiss you yet or I’ll rub off my lipstick. Sketching first. Making out later.”
“I’m totally down with that,” I said, kissing the top of her head, which smelled like a combination of her expensive shampoo I’d been attacked with the previous evening, and freshly baked bread from the sub shop. “Where do you want me to set up?”
“Here in my bedroom.” She slid past me and stood in the approximate location where I should sit and then she bounded over to her bed and laid down.
“Uh… you want me to sketch you while you’re lying on your bed?” I gulped.
“With clothes on, of course,” she said, then did the unthinkable. She took off her shirt and laid down with just a bikini top.
“If you hold up a giant diamond and ask me to draw you wearing only that, I’m outta here.” I couldn’t help compare the situation to the scene in the movie Titanic where the sketch artist is asked to draw a nude photo of his girlfriend wearing only a diamond necklace.
“Ah… come on.” Maggie pouted. “You said you’d do anything for me.”
“I won’t do that.” I shook my head adamantly and set up my easel.
“I’m sure in art school you’ll have to draw nudes,” she pointed out.
“Not of the girl I’m falling in love with and trying desperately to stay out of bed with.”
“You’re falling in love with me?” She sat up with an expectant smile.
“Kind of? Either you are or are not falling in love with me.”
“Well, we haven’t known each other long enough yet,” I said. “We don’t really know that much about each other, and we kissed for the first time yesterday, so it’s a little too early in our relationship to claim we’re in love. But I feel really drawn to you.”
“Although I agree with everything else you just said, the intensity of how you were drawn to me when you first met me kind of freaked me out a bit.”
“Sorry about that,” I mumbled, looking away and fumbling with my set up. I unrolled my professional toolkit, confirming that I had all the supplies I needed: three charcoal pencils in varying hardness, an assortment of sketch pencils, a gum eraser, a vinyl eraser, and a kneaded eraser. I snapped out of my organization and lifted my gaze. “You ready?”
As Maggie settled into a carefully organized pile of pillows, I began my portrait as I usually did, by smudging the background and adding details around the person. Sometimes my actual portrait involved more erasing than drawing.
When I did quick drawings on the pier, they seemed more impressive than they really were because I had already taken the time to sketch the background as templates. Then if a subject wanted the sea as the backdrop, or the amusement rides, or the setting sun at the end of the pier, I was ready. All I had to do was add the people.
Before adding Maggie to the center of her portrait, I smudged in her bed and some of the pillows. Then I created a basic frame that would become her body. As I drew closer and closer to her body, I realized I didn’t like where she was positioned on the bed.
“Okay, I want you to bend your right knee and let it fall slightly so that it’s resting against that brown pillow and the left leg is nearly straight. Now, rest your right hand on your right knee. No, don’t grab your knee, more like have your fingers just rest there. Now, bend your left elbow and tuck your hand behind your head. Perfect. And I want you to let your neck go slack so that your face is turned toward me. Soften your expression but intensify your eyes, as if you were about to receive a kiss.”
Bedroom eyes, I thought. Perfect for a portrait with the most beautiful woman in the world lying on a cloud of pillows, waiting for me to join her. Tempting. But I was a professional. She deserved to be captured in that moment, isolated in time and space until the only thing that mattered in the whole world was this one perfect specimen.
My intense emotions toward Maggie showed through in her drawing. Her youthful radiance melted into sensual elegance. She was no longer a girl waiting for a kiss. She was a woman ready for her lover. With one whispered request, her lover could be me.
We’re too young. I forced myself to concentrate and relax so I could finish her portrait. My hands slowed as fewer and fewer tweaks were required. A little flick of my eraser to create a highlight. A smudge with my finger to create a shadow. As my fingers smudged shadows, I realized I was caressing her body.
I lifted my fingers and rested my thumb on her lips, then along her jawline and down her neck. Whoa. Stop right there. I had to grab my eraser to undo some of the smudging I’d created and to force myself not to caress any other body parts on her drawing.
Maggie had mentioned earlier that I would be forced to sketch nudes while in art school. This was worse. And better. Even fully clothed—well, sort of fully clothed—that drawing rivaled anything I’d done before. Sensual. Almost erotic.
Before I showed Maggie the portrait, I took out my cell phone and snapped a photo for my portfolio. That drawing could get me a college scholarship.
“Guess you didn’t take my advice not to stay out too late.” Buddy glanced at his non-existent watch as I slid down from the driver’s seat of my van. He was leaning against the back wall of the surf shop with his arms crossed and a scowl.
“What are you talking about?” I looked at my non-existent watch as well. “It’s only seven o’clock in the morning.”
“You know what I meant, Rick.” Buddy shoved away from the wall and grabbed his surfboard from where it was leaned up next to the building.
“Look, we didn’t do anything, okay?” I walked around back of my van and slid my board out. “We just slept together. Fully clothed. She didn’t want to be alone while her parents were gone.”
“Sleeping together is just as intimate as having sex,” Buddy said. “Maybe even more so.”
“Sure felt amazing.” I signed and allowed my gaze to shift to the horizon. The sun had already risen, and the surf was no longer calm. Perfect for the mood I was in. Indestructible. Cloud nine. Bursting with energy. “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve slept in a bed?”
“I was gonna talk to you about that,” Buddy said. “Lili and I wondered if you might want to move into our extra bedroom. You could sleep in a bed every night.”
“Thanks, man, but I like my freedom.” I thumped the side of my van as I walked past, admiring the creativity of the artwork I’d created.
“The offer’s there if you change your mind.” Buddy patted me on the shoulder. “Come on. Let’s catch a few waves before opening the shop. Dude, what did you do to your hair?”
“Maggie washed it,” I said, turning around and grinning at him. “With shampoo and everything.”
“And you let her?” His jaw dropped, his trek to the beach momentarily halted.
“I didn’t have much of a choice. There was a lot of spraying each other with the shower hose going on and she pinned me down like a puppy dog needing a bath.”
“Ah man, you are whipped already and you ain’t even had sex yet.” He kept walking down the boardwalk and stepped onto the white sand.
“Hey, at least I made one good choice last night.” I hurried to catch up to him.
“Do you know how long it’s going to take you to get your hair back to normal?” He tsked.
“Days. Weeks. Maybe months,” I said as we hiked toward the waterline. “And get this, she cut my hair also.”
“No flippin’ way.” He turned around and lifted his hand as if the check for himself.
“Yeah, I guess I woulda slept in that bed with her too.” He coughed into his hand. “Whipped.”
“Hook, line, and sinker,” I said, wrapping my ankle tether into place.
We refrained from any more conversation as we trudged into the surf and dove onto our boards. Like twins.
Buddy was exactly the kind of guy I would want for a dad. If I’d had a dad. Someone to surf with. Someone to run a shop with. Someone to encourage me with my art. Someone to talk to me about grown up decisions. Buddy was cool.
I was lucky to have him for a friend.
“First things first,” Maggie said, reaching up to put the shower head back in place and turning off the water. “As much as I love spraying you with the hose, the water is eventually going to get cold and I plan to kiss you for several minutes.”
“Several minutes?” I feigned surprise and maintained my position on the seat in her very large shower, soaking wet, waiting for her to take the lead. “This isn’t a quick peck on the lips type of thing?”
“Definitely not.” She cocked her head to the side and pursed her lips. “Can you explain to me why you have thought kissing to be revolting in the past so I can try to avoid that in the future.”
“It’s the whole swapping spit thing,” I tried to explain, still not sure I could put this into words. “I mean you wouldn’t purposely spit into someone’s mouth, right?” I shuddered.
“I think it has more to do with the nerve endings in your lips,” Maggie said. “They’re very sensitive. When someone touches your lips, you can feel it all the way down to your toes.”
“This has become a very scientific conversation,” I said. “I’m an artist, remember? Speak to me using my language.”
“Okay, we’re going to try something,” Maggie said, holding up the fingers on her right hand. “I want you to close your eyes. Don’t worry I’m not going to kiss you. I’m just going to touch your lips with my fingers, okay?”
“Alright.” I closed my eyes.
“Now, try to relax.” She took a deep breath and I followed her lead. “Relax your shoulders.”
“Relax your posture.”
“Relax your jaw.”
I felt my jaw soften and my lips parted slightly.
“Now, try to stay just like that,” she whispered.
With a feather touch, I felt her fingers touch my lips and she was right. The sensation of her touch travelled along nerve endings, not quite to my toes. More the sensations got stuck in my midsection and then my whole being belonged to her. Her touch was the only thing that mattered in my world. I lifted my hands to her hips again and held them there.
“Open your eyes, Chad.”
“Now let’s try that for real, okay?”
“Close your eyes again and relax.”
The feather touch this time was not her fingers on my lips, it was her lips on my lips. The effect was the same. Sensations I never knew existed flowed throughout my body and I got lost in that escape. Her lips moved mine. I let her take control. At first.
I’m not sure at what point I took control of the kiss, but I knew that my lips were now moving hers. Everything from that moment on was pure instinct and primal need. Her arms draped around my neck, my hands pulled her close until she was sitting on my lap. Her fingers wove into my hair. My fingers wove into hers. My hands rubbed her back.
That kiss could have led to bigger and better things but the warning voice in the back of my mind shouted at me one word.
We stopped kissing and I pressed my forehead to hers and groaned.
“We’re too young,” I whispered, my breathing heavy.
“I know,” she whispered back.
“We need to slow down.”
“Okay, as long as we both know.” I shifted on the shower seat, moving her legs so that she had to sit up straight and no longer slouch against me, tempting me further. “By the way, there was nothing repulsive about that.”
“Have I converted you?” She smirked.
“You have one hundred percent converted me.”
“Will you sleep with me?” Maggie asked, vulnerability seeping into her voice.
“I thought we just decided we were going to slow down.” I pulled back just a little and met her gaze. “Have you changed your mind that quickly?”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” she said. “I just want you to sleep in my arms. I want you to hold me. And I want to hold you. When are we ever going to get this chance again? When are my parents going to be gone again?”
“You tell me.”
“They never go away for the weekend like this. This is our one chance.”
“Okay, I’ll stay.”
“Is your dad going to get mad if you stay out all night?” Maggie asked.
“I don’t have a dad.” I looked away.
“Is Buddy your brother?”
“No… he’s just a friend.”
“But you look like twins.” Maggie cocked her head to the side.
“That’s what Lili said.”
“I just figured your dad was really super young when he had you,” Maggie said. “So, does that mean Lili’s not your mom?”
“My mom…. died in a car accident when I was five.”
“Oh my gosh, Chad, why didn’t you tell me that?”
“You’re probably the first person I’ve ever told.”
“Really? Does Buddy know?”
“So, who lives up in Pasadena?” She creased her brow.
“My grandparents on my mom’s side. They technically have custody of me until I turn eighteen.”
“Who do you live with?”
“Nobody,” I said. “I live alone.”
“Are you lonely?”
“Not anymore.” I grinned. “I have you, and Buddy and Lili, and all my surfer friends, and all the people who buy my art, and I think I might be going to UCLA a year from now.”
“That’s so exciting.” She sounded genuinely happy for me.
“I’m actually a pretty happy person.”
“That’s so cool.”
“Will you come with me to visit my mom’s grave?” Now I was the one who sounded vulnerable. “This week’s the anniversary of her accident. You can meet my grandparents too.”
“Okay, what day do you want to go?” she asked.
“Whatever day you have off work.”
“I don’t work at all on Tuesday, but I have to be there for the lunch shift on Wednesday.”
“Tuesday’s actually kind of perfect because that’s her anniversary.” Why was I getting excited to go see my mom’s grave? Maybe because I’d be spending the whole day with Maggie?
“Tuesday it is then.” She nodded her head definitively.
“Let’s just drive there and back in one day so we won’t have to convince your parents to let you stay at my grandma’s.”
“Perfect. We’ll leave at the crack of dawn Tuesday morning.”
“For now, let’s get some sleep.” I stood with her still in my arms, her tiny body barely any weight for my strong surfer muscles.
“Okay, put me down. I need to get some jammies on. I’m soaking wet.” She squirmed to get out of my arms. “Ooh, you are too, aren’t you?”
“I’ve got some sweats in my van,” I said. “I’ll go grab them. If I try to sleep in your arms without clothes on, we won’t make it through the night without breaking our own rules.”
“Shoot, we wouldn’t make it an hour.”
“Might not make it an hour anyway.” I laughed at her expression. “Joking! I’m just joking.” Sort of.
“Go find your sweats and I’ll find my jammies.” She pushed me away playfully.
I headed back down the stairs and out to my van. When I removed my damp swimsuit, I took everything out of the little zipper pocket. I set aside my driver’s license, unfolded the two twenty-dollar bills and laid them out to dry. I grabbed the key to my van and glanced at that condom Buddy had given me.
“Won’t be needin’ that,” I mumbled, then remembered Buddy’s words. “Keep one with you all the time.” I slipped the thing in the pocket of my sweats along with my key.
Once again the word that came to my mind as I locked my van and headed back upstairs to Maggie’s bedroom was, “Seventeen.”
“You sure your parents are gonna be okay with me being here this late?” I asked, allowing Maggie to drag me in her front door. “What time are they comin’ home?”
“My parents are gone for the whole weekend,” Maggie said with a mischievous grin.
“Seriously?” I matched her grin.
“Seriously. Did you bring your swimsuit like I asked?”
“I’m always wearing a swimsuit.” I glanced down at my tattered Bermuda shorts. “Gotta be prepared in case the surf’s right.”
“Always good to be prepared,” Maggie said, pulling me up the grand staircase.
Dang her house was nice. If only she knew her boyfriend was homeless, how would that affect how she felt about me? I didn’t want to think about that. I wanted to focus on whatever fun surprise she had lined up for me.
She held my hand and pulled me all the way down the hallway to a very frilly bedroom. How did Buddy predict I might be in this situation? Not that I expected her to take me to her bed when we hadn’t even kissed each other before. Instead she led me into her attached bathroom.
“What are you doing, woman?” I asked.
She slipped off her shirt to reveal a bikini top that left little to the imagination, and I suddenly had a vivid imagination. She unzipped her little shorts and I couldn’t even open my eyes to check on those tiny bikini bottoms. I peeked one eye opened and physically moaned.
“What are you doing to me?” Even if I kept my eyes squeezed shut, I could never remove the image of Maggie Hindle in a bikini. I had seen thousands of girls in bikinis over the years. I lived at a beach afterall. But they weren’t Maggie. They weren’t the girl I was falling for.
“I’m going to wash your hair,” she said with a grin.
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.” I looked at the ceiling with a half-cringe and half-grin. “It’ll take me forever to get it back to normal again.”
“And I’m gonna trim it just a little,” she said.
“Oh, no, you are not.” That was drawing a line. Still I let her pull me into her very large shower.
“Just a little,” she said. “Not a lot. We just want to keep you at the perfect length.”
“I’m at the perfect length right now,” I whined but sat on the built-in seat at the side of the shower so she could reach my head.
“And we’re gonna keep it that way.” Maggie reached up to grab the shower sprayer and held it in her hand while she adjusted the water temperature. She sprayed it at my chest to test it. “Is that hot enough?” she asked.
“No, it’s freezing.” I cringed away from her.
“Don’t be such a baby.” She kept adjusting the water and sprayed me again a few seconds later. “Good?”
“Yeah, that’s good.” That was more than good. I’d never felt anything so good as having her spray me with water. She ignored my roaming hands resting on her hips as she sprayed my hair.
“Here, hold this.” She handed me the sprayer nozzle and reached over to grab some expensive looking shampoo.
“What a waste of shampoo,” I grumbled but didn’t fight her as her hands wove into my hair and her fingers massaged my scalp. I was in absolute heaven. I closed my eyes and let myself get carried away. I relaxed so much my hand slipped and the sprayer nozzle belted her in the face.
“Watch where you’re pointing that thing!” She took a step back and cringed, not even able to wipe her eyes because her hands were covered in shampoo.
“What’s the matter? You don’t like getting sprayed with water?” I sprayed her across her chest, dousing her bikini top. “Turn around’s fair play, you know.”
“Hold still,” she demanded, stepping closer to me again. “I’m not done yet.”
“Do I get to wash your hair too?”
“Heck no,” she said. “I am a trained professional. I have finished one half of the required hours to get my beautician’s license.”
“Ooh, I’m impressed.” I held still for the remainder of her torture session, focusing on the way her hands felt in my hair rather than on the number of days it was going to take to get my hair to look right again.
She lathered up my hair three times and complained that we didn’t have time to wash it a fourth time. Then she rubbed conditioner all over my head and I was sure I would look like a girl when she was done with me. After her final rinse she turned off the shower and tossed me a towel. “Stay there. I’m bringing the scissors to you.”
“Great, scissors,” I grumbled. “A surfer’s worst nightmare.”
Maggie put her hands on her hips and cocked her head to the side. “Do I look like a surfer’s worst nightmare to you?”
I shook my head as I looked her up and down. “You look like a surfer’s best dream come true.”
“Good, now stop ogling me and turn around so I can cut your hair while it’s still clean.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I turned and tried to hide the grin from my face. I would do anything this woman wanted me to do. I was putty in her hands.
She snipped for a few minutes in silence and I relaxed. “There, see, you’re barely gonna even notice I took any off.”
“Sure, we’ll go with that.”
“I’m gonna rinse your hair one more time to get all the loose hair off.”
“I will do anything you want, baby. I’m all yours.” I lifted my gaze to her as she was rinsing my hair and noticed a crease in her brow. “What’s the matter?” I pulled her closer.
“Why haven’t you kissed me yet?” Maggie asked quietly.
“I’ve never”—I gulped— “kissed anyone before.”
“Never?” She pulled the hose to the side and lifted her eyebrows. “Why not?”
“I have always found the idea repulsive,” I admitted. “In the past.”
“Well… what about… in the future?”
“I might be persuaded to experiment with kissing… in the future.”
“Is it the future yet?” Maggie asked, her breathing heavier.
“Would you mind if I try kissing you?” she asked. “If you feel that it’s repulsive, we’ll stop.”
“That sounds fair.” I cleared my throat and sat up straight, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Okay, how do we start?”
“Hey Rick, I want to talk to you.” Buddy wrapped his arm around my shoulders. “Lili can handle the store for a few minutes. You and I need to have a man-to-man.”
We headed down the boardwalk away from the pier. He meant business if he wanted this kind of privacy. I suspected I knew what he wanted to talk about, and I sort of welcomed it. Not having a dad meant not having anyone to talk to about these kinds of things.
“You and Maggie are getting pretty serious.”
“Yeah, I know.” We walked a moment in silence. Maggie and I had surfed together almost every day since we’d met and I’d taken her to dinner once at the Mexican restaurant on the end of the pier.
“Anything you want to talk about?”
“I dunno. Maybe.” This was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be. Maybe because Buddy wasn’t actually my father, but he sort of filled that role in my life.
“You’re seventeen, right?” He held up fingers like he was counting.
“Yeah.” Where was he going with this?
“I was seventeen…” Buddy’s voice trailed off. “Summer before my senior year of high school.”
“Gee, that sounds familiar.” I chuckled.
“You guys doin’ that already?” Buddy stopped me and I was surprised to see his brow furrowed.
“No, sir.” I gulped. Why was I nervous all of a sudden?
“Look, Rick, I’m not sayin’ that bein’ a dad isn’t the best thing ever, but maybe wait until after high school, huh? Maybe even college?”
“You want me to wait until after college to have sex with Maggie?” My mouth gaped. “Do you know how long that is from now?”
“I want you to wait until after college to become a dad,” he said.
“Oh.” I snickered. “Yeah, I can handle waiting to have kids until we’re out of college.”
“What are your plans?” Buddy asked.
“This guy from the UCLA art department wants to offer me a full ride and I’m totally down with that. I need to stay near the beach.” I looked over his shoulder to where the surf crashed lightly against the shore, lulled into the late evening.
“I meant what are your plans with Maggie?” Buddy sounded annoyed. “Don’t get me wrong; I’m proud of you about getting into college. But all those dreams could go up in smoke if you get Maggie pregnant.”
“I’m not gonna get her pregnant.” I rolled my eyes.
“I want you to keep one of these with you all the time.” Buddy held up a generic drug store condom. I grabbed it from him and hid it in my hand, in case anyone was close enough to see what he’d given me.
“One?” I raised my brows.
“One with you, all the time. I’m not sayin’ you’re old enough yet; I just want you to be prepared.”
“I’m not gonna make that kinda mistake,” I mumbled.
“Hey, look at me.” Buddy turned me toward him and placed both hands on my shoulders. “Sex is not a mistake. It’s a choice. And I want you to be old enough and mature enough when you make that choice.”
“Okay…” I was kind of freaking out at the intensity of his words, as if there was a deeper meaning to this lesson. “I’ll be sure we’re ready when we make that choice.” I emphasized the word choice so he knew I took his lesson to heart.
“Thank you.” He patted me on the cheek and seemed like he wanted to say more but didn’t. “Come on. Let’s get back to the shop. We don’t want to make Lili close up by herself.”
“Definitely not.” We wrapped an arm around each other’s shoulders and walked along the boardwalk, back toward the shop.
Lili was trying to lower the awning by herself when we came around the bend and she did a double take when she saw us. “Geesh, almost can’t tell you two apart anymore.”
I stepped away and looked Buddy up and down. She was right. We were wearing nearly identical clothes. Bermuda shorts, Birkenstock sandals, a loose Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned and untucked. We even had the same shaggy surfer haircut, or lack thereof. “Dude, we look like twins.” I laughed as I grabbed the awning to help Lili. “You been raiding my closet?”
“You mean your van?” he teased me then winked at his wife. “Speaking of which, I put a box of those on your front seat.”
“Shh…” I frowned at Buddy and shook my head. “Why ya gotta talk about that in front of a lady?”
“Heck, she’s the one who made me buy them for you.”
“Who bought them?” She put her hands on her hips and raised her brows.
“Okay, she bought them,” Buddy admitted. “And forced me to have that very awkward conversation with you.”
“I’m glad you did.” I shrugged. “I grew up without a dad, so, I really appreciate having you in my life.”
“Sorry about that, Rick,” Buddy said, looking down and shuffling his feet. “I really am.”
“Hey, none of that.” Lili stepped over and lifted Buddy’s chin. Then she smiled over at me. “We’re glad you’re in our life now. You’re like the son I was never able to have.”
“You guys weren’t able to have kids?” This was a really weird conversation to be having, but I suppose if I was old enough to be thinking about having sex with my girlfriend, I was old enough to be having grown-up conversations.
“I have… fertility issues,” Lili said.
“Oh, come on, you could blame it on your husband.” I wrapped my arm around Buddy’s shoulder, teasing him. “Maybe he’s the one shootin’ blanks.”
“Nah, I’m pretty sure the problem lies with me.” The way Lili and Buddy were grinning at each other I thought they were going to excuse themselves to go home and finish this conversation.
I shuddered. “I’m outta here.”
“Don’t stay out too late,” Buddy called to me as I walked away.
“Gee thanks for the advice, dad.” I cracked myself up with my sarcasm then turned around and kept walking backward, calling back to you. “Hey, I’m gonna start callin’ you dad since you had this little talk with me.”
“That’d be awesome,” Buddy said, wrapping his arm around his wife’s waist. I felt bad they were never able to have kids. That would suck.
“Yeah, right.” I snorted. “You’re a little young to be my dad but since you weren’t able to get your wife pregnant, I’ll fill in as your son.”
“How old do you think I am, Rick?” Was that humor in his voice or was he offended?
“I dunno.” I was still walking backward toward my van. “Like… forty?”
“I’m only thirty-four,” Buddy called out.
“See, way too young,” I said. “You’da had to bin’ like seventeen when I was born.”
“Yep. Seventeen.” Buddy pinched the bridge of his nose and almost cringed. The thought must have been just as repulsive to him as it was to me.
“Seventeen. Ugh. Can’t even imagine.” I reached my van and dug my car key from the little zipper pocket, also knocking into that silly condom. I took it out of my pocket and tossed it on the seat beside me, along with the giant box Lili had bought.
As I started my van I sat there with my hands on the steering wheel and glanced over to my right.
“Seventeen,” I muttered. “Maybe I’ll just keep it with me.” I reached over and grabbed the little thing from the seat and tucked it into my zipper pocket.
As I backed out of my parking spot, I waved to where Buddy and Lili were still holding each other standing outside the surf shop. Cute couple. They were perfect together. That was the kind of relationship I wanted to have when I got married.
Maggie, I thought. Yeah, I wanna marry her someday.
“Thank you for having me over for dinner, Mrs. Hindle,” I said in my most grown-up, respectful voice. “Everything smells wonderful.” A combination of aromas filled her spacious kitchen. Spices on steamed vegetables, freshly-baked dinner rolls, a cheesy casserole with broccoli and pasta.
“We’re glad to have you, Chad,” Maggie’s mom answered. “Here, will you take this casserole over to the table? It’s hot. Be careful.” She handed me some oven mitts first and I picked up the Pyrex dish and carried it into the dining room where I set it down on hot pads that were perfectly positioned to accommodate the pan.
When I returned the oven mitts to the kitchen, she handed me a bowl of dinner rolls. “You kids can have a seat. Riley! Dinner’s ready!” she called into family room where a Dodgers baseball game was on the television.
I cringed away from her hollering to her husband and hurried into the dining room. Maggie was already slipping into her chair and I slid in next to her.
The large white paper napkin beside my plate was too much of a temptation. I grabbed a pen from the pocket of my sweatshirt, clicked it open, and quickly sketched out the bowl of rolls complete with shadowing and depth. I couldn’t help it.
“That is so cool,” Maggie said. “You can draw just about anything can’t you?”
“I can draw you,” I said with a mischievous grin. “From memory.” I turned the napkin over and shifted so that I was facing the opposite corner forcing myself not to look at her. I quickly pulled together a very rough draft of her face. The quality of the drawing looked more impression than its level of difficulty. I held it up for her to see.
“Oh my gosh! That’s incredible.” Maggie held up the napkin to show her father, who was just walking in the room. “Look what Chad just drew, Daddy.”
“Chad? Who’s Chad?” Her father slipped on his reading glasses to get a closer look at my drawing.
“Hello, Mr. Hindle.” I stood and offered my hand. “I’m Chad Briggs. I met your daughter down at the sub shop where she works. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too.” Riley Hindle shook my hand absentmindedly, still scrutinizing the drawing as he moved over to the head of the table. “This is very impressive.”
“Thank you, sir.” I cleared my throat and returned to my seat.
“Margaret, why don’t you grab this young man another napkin so you can keep this.”
“Good thinking, Daddy.” Maggie rose from her chair and headed for the kitchen.
“Mr. Hindle, since I have you alone for a moment, I’d like to ask your permission to take your daughter on a date.”
He peered at me across the tops of his reading glasses then removed them and slipped them in his pocket.
I gulped. “Sometime. Soon. When you’ve had sufficient time to get to know me and feel that I’m good enough to be trusted with your daughter.”
“I don’t trust any teenage boy with my daughter,” Mr. Hindle said.
“I understand, sir.” I lowered my gaze. “Let me know if you change your mind,” I mumbled.
“Just the fact that you asked my permission says a lot about your character.”
“Thank you, sir.” I took a drink from the water glass sitting beside my plate.
“I suppose you can take her out sometime,” he said.
“Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.”
“I still don’t trust you.”
“I understand, sir.”
Maggie and her mother entered the dining room carrying the remaining parts of the meal, a salad and steamed vegetables along with a new napkin for me.
I hadn’t been this hungry since sitting at my grandmother’s table for Easter dinner two years ago, and it had nothing to do with the length of time since my last meal. This was a family. This was something I craved more than food.
“Everything looks delicious, Mrs. Hindle.” Then I stage whispered over to Maggie. “I may renege on my promise not to eat like a starving savage.”
Maggie giggled and Mr. and Mrs. Hindle both stopped with their serving spoons halfway to their plates. I decided to explain.
“The day I met Maggie she gave me a sub that was so tasty I inhaled the thing in four or five bites.”
“He promised me that when I invited him over to meet my parents he wouldn’t eat like a starving savage.”
“In my defense I had just come off the surf where I had burned about a zillion calories.”
“So, you’re a surfer?” Mrs. Hindle asked, resuming dishing. I couldn’t tell if her tone was impressed or derogatory.
“I have been known to surf a few times a day.” I nodded.
“A few times a day?” Mr. Hindle asked. “Don’t you have a job?”
“Uh… I help out at Buddy’s Surf Shop a few hours a day. Plus, I do character drawings down on the pier. I make good money as a sketch artist.”
“Character drawings?” Mrs. Hindle asked, lifting her eyebrows.
“Yes, ma’am.” I gulped. This dinner was not quite as appetizing as it had been a few minutes ago.
“Look what Chad drew, Momma.” Maggie reached across me to grab the napkin on which I’d drawn her portrait, from where it was still sitting in front of her father’s plate. “He drew that just a few minutes ago, from memory.”
“Wow, you’re talented.” Finally, her mom sounded impressed.
“Thank you, ma’am.” I took a bite of casserole that contained cheese and tuna and some sort of white sauce, which explained why none of the casserole was on Maggie’s plate. I wondered why her mom didn’t go out of her way to accommodate her daughter’s vegan lifestyle.
“Is that what you want to do for a living?” she asked. “Art? Drawing?”
“Well, I’ve sort of been offered a full ride to UCLA art school.”
“Sort of?” Mr. Hindle raised his eyebrows. Why did this feel like an interrogation?
“Everything’s still in the negotiating stage,” I said. “My guidance counselor will be involved in drawing up all the paperwork and stuff. I mean, I still have to finish my senior year of high school, so there’s time.”
“Definitely,” Mr. Hindle agreed. “Sounds like you’ve got your head on your shoulders, young man.”
“Thank you, sir.” I let out a breath of relief. Hopefully I’d passed the first test of meeting the parents. Seeing as how Maggie was my first real girlfriend, if we’d even reached the stage of calling her my girlfriend, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
If I could get through dinner without making a complete fool of myself, being Maggie Hindle’s boyfriend should be easy.
“First of all, you look totally hot in that rash guard.” I was still disappointed not to see Maggie in a swimsuit but maybe on our next date we could go swimming or sunbathing or play beach volleyball. That or I could learn how to be a gentleman and not think like a seventeen-year-old guy who has never kissed a girl.
“I feel silly wearing a long-sleeve shirt and pants to the beach.” Maggie glanced around as she trudged through the soft sand between the surf shop and the waterline. Lili had loaned her a skintight wetsuit designed for protection rather than warmth with the Rip Curl logo on the shoulder, not that Maggie would know to be impressed.
“You can thank me at the end of the day when you’re not sunburnt, and don’t have painful scratches all over your midsection,” I said. The heat of the sun warmed the sand, burning my bare feet. My permanently tanned skin was unlikely to get sunburned from a few hours of surfing but Maggie seemed like an indoor girl.
“How can I be thankful for something that didn’t happen and may or may not have ever happened?” she challenged.
“Good point.” I tried to come up with a good comeback. “Shall we ask some of the other surfers if they think you should or should not wear a rash guard?”
“I am not talking to any other surfers, thank you very much.” She kept walking with her nose in the air until her feet were in the water, no doubt still upset about Rocky being a jerk the night before.
“Come back, Maggie,” I called her in from the water’s edge. “We’re going to do a little shore lesson.”
I was carrying both boards since the one we’d chosen for her was long and heavy. The length and balance would be perfect for her as a beginning surfer but not easy to handle outside the water. I flopped both boards onto the sand parallel to one another.
“Come lay down with me.” I held out my hand as invitation. A tiny grin quirked my lips.
“Pardon me?” Maggie put her hands on her hips.
“On the boards,” I explained quickly, knowing she wasn’t really mad. “You have to lay on your belly and paddle until you hit the breaker just right. Then you slide up onto your feet.”
“Gonna be hard to hit the waves just right if we’re lying on the sand,” she said, but joined me next to the boards.
“Have you ever done any yoga?” I adjusted our boards in a position that she’d be able to see me demonstrate. I pointed to her board as I demoed on mine. “Find the middle of the board and put your chest right about that spot.”
“What does yoga have to do with surfing?” she asked as she followed my lead and laid on her belly.
“We’re going to push ourselves into upward facing dog and then slide our legs up until we’re standing.”
“We are, are we?” Her snarky flirting was extremely distracting.
“This was your idea, remember?”
“I want to get out in the water, not play in the sand.”
“You’ll swallow a lot more saltwater practicing these moves on the waves,” I said. “Let’s learn the techniques on solid ground and spend more time surfing and less time falling.”
“Fine, if you insist.” She feigned relenting.
“Okay, push yourself up into upward facing dog and then use the momentum to slide your legs forward and stand in the middle of the board. Awesome! Nice job, dude.”
She must have perfect equilibrium because she slid up with ease. We tried a few more times before I realized I was wasting my time. She would do fine.
I picked up both boards and carried them toward the water. “Now, when you fall, make sure you fall backwards and away from the shoreline.”
“Why is that?” When she’d walked as far out as her knees, I laid the board in the water for her.
“You don’t ever want to be between your board and the shoreline,” I said. “It could hit you in the head and you’d get seriously injured.”
“Wouldn’t want that,” she said, then laid on her board directly in the center like I’d taught her. “I will do as you say mister surfing guru.”
“You ready for this?” I laid on my board and we both paddled out.
“Ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose,” she said. “How can I fail? I had the best surfing instructor on the gold coast.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere, young lady.” I loved flirting with her while we had nothing else to do besides paddle. “Now, we need to get over those breakers and there are several ways to do that. As a beginner, you’ll want to lift your chest similar to how we did the upward facing dog and try to get the breaker to flow under you or even in between you and the board.”
“You’re not going to teach me how to duck dive? Turtle roll?”
“You know your surfing terminology.” I was impressed. “Those techniques are pretty advanced. Let’s get you on your feet a few times and maybe you’ll eventually be ready to learn those.”
“Fine, if you insist,” she teased. We kept paddling and when we got to the breaker, I did my best to demo how to get over the wave, cringing in anticipation of her getting rolled. She didn’t. She slid right over. “Nice job!” I called to her.
Once we were in calmer water, I had her turn toward the shore, and we waited for the right sized wave. “Okay, you ready? Paddle, paddle, paddle, just like we practiced. Okay, now slide up!” I called out when she’d gotten into the perfect position on the wave.
Maggie slid up to her feet, smooth as silk, and glided down the wave as if it had been designed to fit her body. That little brat. She was near perfect in her technique and rode the wave almost to the shore then practically stepped off the board rather than falling.
As I awkwardly rode up behind her on a smaller and less impressive wave, she lifted her board into her arms and unhooked the ankle tether.
“I’m sorry, I just have to switch to a shortboard. This thing’s so big I could hardly maneuver.”
“Gee, Maggie, how many years have you been riding on the pro circuit?” I couldn’t believe how she’d played me. I unhooked my tether as I trudged out of the water after her, feeling like an idiot for not figuring it out sooner.
“I’ve only won a junior surfing competition once,” she said as if that wasn’t impressive. “I came in a close second a few times. But it’s been forever since I’ve been on a board.”
“Forever as in, last week or something?” I asked. “I feel like such a schmuck.”
“Ah, that was fun to watch you try to teach me to surf.” She pushed my shoulder playfully.
When we were halfway up to the boardwalk, Buddy called down to us. “What happened? Give up already?”
“I’m having trouble with this board, Mr. Shaw.” Maggie held up the longboard.
Buddy rushed forward to help Maggie and took the heavy board out of her hands so he could carry it the rest of the way. “What was wrong with it?” He sounded so sympathetic that I chuckled, waiting for her punchline.
“Well, I usually ride a shortboard, but with waves this small I’d rather have a fish board for better maneuverability. I think I saw one in your collection.” With determination, Maggie accepted Buddy’s offer to carry her board as she trudged up to the building.
Buddy and I stood side by side with our jaws gaping as Maggie came back out holding the cute little pink board that Lili had joked about.
“This one’s perfect. How much do you want for it?”
* * * * * * * * *
“Fun date, little miss pro surfer.” I nudged Maggie’s shoulder as we sat with our boards on the sand, exhausted from riding the waves for several hours. “What the heck was that all about?”
“Tell me it wasn’t more fun this way,” she said, nudging me back.
She had a point. The day had been really fun, first attempting to teach her skills she schooled me on, then finding out about her natural talent, and then spending the afternoon doing something we both loved.
“Now you know the real reason I’m working at a sandwich shop,” she said. “I can park my car there, surf, come to work, then surf some more.”
“Well, gee, if you ever need a surfing buddy, you know where to find me.”
“I want you to come meet my parents,” she said out of the blue.
“Really?” I turned to her with excitement. “Not if? When?”
“When,” she confirmed. “How about soon?”
“Sounds good to me.”
A courier came trudging down the sand and called out to us. “Are you Chad and Maggie?”
The bag he held out looked suspiciously like it contained food. He handed it to me. “Prepaid including a tip. You have a generous boss.”
“Thanks, dude. We’re starving.”
“He said you would be. There are a couple of Powerades in there as well. He said to tell you to make sure you rehydrate because he needs you at work tomorrow.”
“Will do.” I reached over and offered him a fist bump, wondering which of our bosses had just sent us dinner. The fact that the meal was from the Surf & Sub shop meant little since it was right across the street from Buddy’s Surf Shop. Either way, this was a totally sweet gesture.
“Thank you,” Maggie called out to the guy as he trudged back up the beach.
I opened the bag to find one vegan sub and one tuna sub along with two Powerades. We dug in with gusto and I couldn’t help thinking this was the best date ever.
“Hey, Buddy, can I borrow a board for Maggie to use? I want to teach her how to surf.” I stood in front of the line-up of surfboards in the back room of Buddy’s Surf Shop, scrutinizing the selection.
“Sure, dude, whatever you want.” Buddy didn’t look up from his task of sweeping the sand off the concrete in the spacious back room where surfers came and went without regard to how much sand they brought in with them. Sweeping sand was a near constant battle.
“Wait, wait, wait—” Lili hurried from the front of the store. “Who is Maggie and when can I meet her?” Her voice was like a mother excited to meet her son’s new girlfriend.
I reminded myself that Buddy and his wife didn’t have children and I didn’t have a mother, so I let her be excited for me.
“Rick has a crush on the new girl from the Surf and Sub across the street,” Buddy teased.
I loved the way Buddy always called me Rick when everyone else called me Chad. The day I bought my first surfboard, he ran my credit card and laughed at my first name. Chadrick. He looked at me and his jaw dropped. I knew mine was a rare name, but his reaction was almost emotional.
Buddy asked me why I shortened my name to Chad, and I told him that was what my mom always used to call me. He nodded definitively and told me he was going to call me Rick. I’m like, whatever, dude, can you just sell me a surfboard? He took the rest of the afternoon off and gave me surfing lessons too. We were instant friends after that.
“She’s meeting me here in a little while after she works the lunch shift,” I said, still scrutinizing boards to pick out just the right one.
“You should let her use one of my boards.” Lili pushed past me and grabbed one of her newest boards. “They’ll be just her size.”
“Uh, not necessarily, babe,” Buddy said, gently taking the short board from his wife. “You’re an advanced surfer and Maggie is not. She needs a wide, thick board, and a few feet taller than her. Do you know how tall she is?” Buddy asked, turning to me.
“About yay big, maybe?” I held up my hand to the height of my shoulder, then moved it up a little, then down a little. “I don’t know. I can’t remember.”
“We’ll just measure her when she gets here,” Buddy said, moving a few boards around. He and Lili chose a few that might work and lined them up shortest to tallest.
“This one’s cute.” Lili held up a pink board. “Girls like pink.”
“No, she needs one with more floatation than that.” Buddy took the cute, pink board from Lili. His annoyance showed that he didn’t realize Lili was teasing. She winked at me behind his back. “What are the waves like out there?” Buddy moved to the open back door and gazed toward the surf.
I stepped closer to him so I could evaluate for myself. “Too small,” I said.
“Perfect for a beginner,” Buddy mumbled. “Keep her on the small rollers and let’s get her a longboard with some stability.”
“Okay, thanks, man.” I patted him on the shoulder, glad he was taking this seriously. I wanted to impress my new girlfriend, not get her injured. I turned back to where Lili was holding one of her longer boards and eyeballing how tall or short Maggie would need to be to use that one.
“This one is perfect.” Lili held the board out to me.
“How do you know?” I asked. “You haven’t even met Maggie yet.”
“I’m just good at predicting,” she said with a shrug.
“Hello?” Maggie’s voice called from the front of the store. “Anybody here?”
I hurried to the front and smiled when I saw her standing there by the counter. She still wore her uniform from working at the Surf and Sub shop but had removed her name tag. I had yet to see her in anything other than her uniform and looked forward to getting her on the beach.
“Oh! You’re so adorable!” Lili pushed past me and grabbed Maggie in a hug.
“Sorry,” I mouthed in a stage whisper. “Lili’s a hugger.”
“I’m so excited to meet you,” Lili said, pulling back and holding Maggie at arms’ length. “Heck, we’re just excited Rick finally has a girlfriend.”
“Rick?” Maggie raised her eyebrows.
“My name’s Chadrick,” I explained. “They’re the only ones who call me Rick. Every other living person on this earth calls me Chad.”
Buddy coughed from behind me and then coughed again, and then again, and finally left the room. What the heck?
“You’ll have to excuse my husband.” Lili looked over my shoulder in the direction Buddy had disappeared. “He must be having an asthma attack or something. You can meet him another time. I’ll… go check on him.”
Lili hurried after Buddy, leaving Maggie and I alone again.
“I hope he’s okay,” Maggie said, her brow creased.
“I’m sure he’s fine.” I waved it off and took her hand in mine. “Let’s get you measured for a board.” I led her into the back of the surf shop.
“Wow, this is so cool. I had no idea this was back here.” Maggie looked around with wide eyes at all the surfboards and equipment and supplies.
“Thought maybe we could borrow a rashguard from Lili so you can learn to surf without tearing up your skin,” I said. “Although, I’d love to see you in a swimsuit.” I wiggled my eyebrows suggestively.
“A rashguard’s a good idea,” Buddy said, coming up behind me. He briefly patted me on the shoulder and then reached out a hand to Maggie. “Hi, I’m Buddy. Nice to meet you. Sorry about my coughing fit. Musta got something down the wrong pipe.”
“Nice to meet you too.” Maggie tucked that ever-straying lock of hair behind her ear and smiled shyly.
“Did y’all pick out a board yet?” Buddy stepped over to the lineup and selected the one Lili had predicted would be perfect. “Let’s try this one on for size.” He held the board up next to Maggie and it was almost exactly two feet taller than her. Perfect.
“Did I call it?” Lili said with a satisfied smirk. “Here’s a rashguard that will probably fit you and is relatively clean, give or take a little sand and sea water.”
“Maggie is not a fan of sea water,” I said, rubbing my hand through my hair.
Buddy and Lili both gaped at us. “How are you planning to go surfing?” Buddy asked.
“I’m not a fan of your hair,” Maggie said, wrinkling her nose. “There’s a difference.”
“Son, you’ll want to break up with this young lady now, before this goes any further,” Buddy said with barely contained laughter. “This relationship will not end well.”
“Not a chance.” I shook my head adamantly. “This is only our second date. She’ll learn to love my hair.”
“Wait until he finds out I’m working on my cosmetology license,” Maggie stage whispered to Lili. “He’ll break up with me real fast when he realizes how good I am with a pair of scissors.”
“I like this girl already, Rick,” Lili said. “Maybe when she’s done with you, she can take her scissors to my husband’s hair.”
“That’s crossing a line, babe,” Buddy teased Lili. “Why don’t you show this nice young lady to the changing rooms, and you and I will have a little talk later on.”
“Are we in trouble?” Maggie turned and gave me a flirty wink as she and Lili walked away.
“We are in deep trouble,” Lili answered, heading into the ladies changing rooms.
“Nah… I think it’s you who’s in trouble, Rick.” Buddy patted me on the back and chuckled as he walked away.
“Yep. I think you’re right,” I mumbled with a sigh. “Deep trouble.”
I’d been right about the number of campfires on the beach, and about each one inviting us to join them. A surfer was a surfer, and I was in the club from my looks alone.
Maggie and I turned down as many beers that evening as there had been campfires. Even from one group who were obviously high school students. I recognized some of them and we stopped longer there so I could introduce Maggie.
“Hey, you guys starting at SMH next month?” I asked the teenagers. Their campfire seemed larger and less-efficient than the others, as if they didn’t really know what they were doing and had the juvenile opinion that bigger was better. “Maggie just moved here. She’ll be a senior.”
“Nice to meet you, Bunny.” A guy called Rocky held out his hand which Maggie tried to shake but he kissed the back of her hand and added two more kisses up her wrist and arm. She pulled away and basically tucked herself behind me. Several of the guys at the campfire laughed.
“Dude! Keep y’er lips off my girl.” I tried to laugh it off but was uncomfortable with his advance.
“Sorry, Dude.” Rocky slurred his words and took another swig from his beer bottle. “When y’er ready t’share, lemme know.”
“Dude, never.” I gave a couple of the other guys fist bumps then backed away, Maggie clinging to my arm. “See ya on the waves.”
“See ya at school next month, Bunny,” Rocky called out to Maggie.
I turned and took large strides away from the jerk to avoid losing my temper and popping him in the nose. Maggie hurried to keep up with me.
“Did he just call me Bunny?” she asked when we were far enough away.
“Yeah, beach bunny is a derogatory nickname for a surfer’s girlfriend,” I explained, still fuming.
“Well, gosh, I’m not sure I want to be a surfer’s girlfriend.” Maggie pulled herself away from where she was clinging to my arm and folded her arms across her chest.
“Ah, come on, babe.” I pulled her to a halt, and she kept her gaze over my shoulder, not meeting my eyes, even as I tried to regain her attention. “Don’t let them ruin our night.”
“I actually should probably be getting home anyway,” Maggie said as she resumed trudging through the thick sand. “I didn’t exactly tell my parents I was hanging out after work tonight.”
“Thank you for hanging out with me,” I said with all the sincerity I could muster through my disappointment. I didn’t want her to think I was pressuring her to stay out later than she should or hang out with me when she just met me today. “We’ll have more fun on our next date, I promise.”
“Who says there’s going to be a next date?” Maggie mumbled; her words barely audible over the low waves crashing beside us.
“You say,” I told her.
“You get to decide when and where our next date is.” I laid the power back in her hands.
“I think the word you’re looking for is ‘if’,” she said, a tiny smirk pulling at the corners of her mouth.
“If, when, same difference,” I teased, catching up to her with my longer and stronger legs.
“Not at all the same thing.” She laughed.
“I’m just extremely overconfident,” I said.
“Arrogant is more like it,” she said, stepping onto the boardwalk, making her footing more sure.
“Semantics.” I waved my hand dismissively. “Where ya parked? I’ll walk you to your car.”
“I’m pretty sure I can walk by myself,” she said.
“I trust that you can walk by yourself,” I said. “I just don’t trust guys like that Rocky kid back there. What if there are more like him up near yer car? You need a bodyguard like me.”
“An overconfident, arrogant, and cocky bodyguard,” she teased.
“Whatever turns ya on.”
“Nothing about you turns me on.” She was trying unsuccessfully to keep from grinning.
“Liar. Everything about me turns you on. My bod, my mysteriously colorful eyes, my hair. Especially my hair.”
“Especially not your hair.” She pushed me away playfully.
I took advantage of her nearness and grabbed her hand again. We walked in silence for a moment until we got to the parking lot of the sub shop where she approached an ordinary Buick sedan that had probably been her mom’s ten years ago. She clicked the key fob and opened the driver’s side door.
“Thanks for walking me to my car.” There was that coy shyness I saw a hint of when we first met.
“See ya for lunch tomorrow,” I said, my voice lowering.
“I have to work tomorrow,” she said. “Besides, you said I get to choose the next date.”
“Which is why I’m coming to the Surf and Sub shop for lunch tomorrow. You can make me a sandwich and let me know when and where you want to go for our next date.”
“How about teaching me how to surf?” she asked. “That could be a fun date.”
“That would be an awesome date,” I agreed. My brain conjured up a vision of Maggie in a swimsuit and I couldn’t wait. “When?”
“I get out at three tomorrow.” She shrugged.
“Perfect. How about you meet me at Buddy’s Surf Shop, and I’ll loan you a board from Buddy’s collection.”
“Cool.” I started to back away. “I’ll still see you at lunch. A guy’s gotta eat.”
“For sure, dude.” She started to climb into her car.
“You’re already gettin’ the surfer lingo down. Radical.”
She pulled out of the parking lot and I sauntered back across the street to my van with a cheesy smile on my face.
My smile grew wider when I realized she was still wearing my sweatshirt. I liked the idea of her snuggling with my sweatshirt. Almost like a hug from me to her.
Maggie. Yeah, I kinda liked Maggie.
“Do you live nearby?” Maggie asked as we walked hand-in-hand toward Buddy’s Surf Shop. I wasn’t ready to tell her I lived mere feet in front of her in that colorful van. “I mean, will you be at the same school as me? We just moved here to Santa Monica and I don’t know anyone yet.”
I turned to her and held out my hand as if we were just meeting. “Hi, I’m Chad. What’s your name?” I pumped her hand with exaggeration.
She laughed and tucked that adorable curl behind her ear. “I’m Maggie. Nice to meet you, Chad.”
“Where do you go to school, Maggie?” I kept up the charade.
“I’m transferring to Santa Monica High School because my dad got a new job.”
“Oh my gosh, that’s where I go to school too!” I widened my eyes with feigned excitement. “I can show you around. Help you learn the ropes.”
“That would be so awesome.” She sighed and I’m pretty sure she wasn’t joking anymore. “I wasn’t looking forward to starting at a new school for my senior year.”
“I promise to help make your senior year memorable.” My voice lowered and I wasn’t joking either.
“Thank you,” she said sincerely. Her lock of hair had fallen again, and I reached up to tuck it behind her ear before she had a chance.
“Your hair is incredibly soft.” I let my fingers play along the curl for a moment before dropping my hand.
“Is yours?” Maggie reached up to pull one of my loose waves and then pulled her hand back. “Ugh, not at all. Yuck.”
“What’s wrong with my hair?” Laughing, I took a step back and shook out my head, knowing darn well what was wrong with my hair. I never washed it outside the ocean. The combination of salt water and natural oils created a sexy style but felt disgusting.
“It’s like…” She wrinkled her nose and wiped her hand on her shorts, laughing. “Sea water or something. How can you stand that?”
I held up my surfboard with a grin. “I can’t imagine why my hair would feel like sea water.” The lightly rolling surf crashed gently against the sand behind us creating a background noise that lulled me to sleep each night.
“Are all surfers as gross as you?” she teased.
“Let’s go for our walk on the beach and I’ll introduce you to some surfers and you can compare and contrast them to me.” I kept walking and dug my car key out of the hidden zipper pocket of my shorts. The only other things I kept in there were my debit card, a couple of twenties for emergencies, and my driver’s license.
Every other possession I owned was stored in my van, which I kept much neater and tidier than any surfer I’d ever known. I didn’t want anybody to joke that it looked like I lived in my van, because it was true, and I wasn’t ready for anyone else besides Buddy to know that.
I opened one of the back doors and slid my surfboard in then reached for a hooded sweatshirt which I sniffed to make sure there weren’t too many hideous odors hiding within.
“Oh my gosh, this is yours?” Maggie’s mouth gaped and she walked around the side, running her fingers along the painted metal. And when I say painted, I mean painted for real. “This is incredible. Where did you find this vintage beast? Did it come painted like this?”
“Nah.” I leaned against the side of the van twirling a large paint brush like a drumstick.
“You did this?” Her expression changed to impressed shock.
“It’s pretty cool, huh?” I ran my fingers along the side just as she’d done, proud of my masterpiece. “I’m not done yet. I won’t stop until every square inch of space has something cool painted on it.”
“I can’t find a single place where there’s not something cool painted on it.”
There were landscapes, sunsets, characters I’d made up, cartoons, people, maps, abstracts, words, musical staffs with notes, the entire Star Spangled Banner in both musical notes and lyrics, famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty, Bible verses, a shelf of books with spines facing out so that a notable collection of classics was represented. If I wanted to impress the guy from the art department, I could just invite him to interview me in the parking lot at the university. Not a bad idea.
“This is the most incredible display of art I’ve ever seen,” Maggie said with awe in her voice.
“Thanks.” I knew the van was impressive but hearing the affirmation coming from this girl I barely knew was special. I decided it was time I got to know her. “How old are you?”
“Seventeen,” she said. “You?”
“Same. What’s your last name?”
“Chad Briggs,” she said as if trying out the name.
“Maggie Briggs,” I said. “Yep, it pairs well. We can get married.”
“Oh, we can, can we?” She raised her eyebrows with a grin.
“Well I wouldn’t marry you if your name sounded hideous paired with mine.”
“Who says I have to take your last name?” she challenged.
“I’d want our children to have my last name.” I wasn’t joking about that. I knew all too well what growing up without having a father’s name was like. That was one of the reasons my grandparents didn’t complain when I told them I was moving to Santa Monica to start a new life for myself at the age of sixteen. I needed a clean break.
Why Santa Monica? I found a postcard in my mom’s top dresser drawer with the Santa Monica pier on one side and the words, “I miss you,” on the back. No return address and no name, just the initials, RS.
I always wondered if RS was my father. There, I’d said it. Okay, I’d thought it. All my life I’ve tried to convince myself that I didn’t care who my father was or why he hadn’t stayed with my mom. I wish I could go back in time and ask her. I shook off the ghosts of my past and focused on this adorable brunette with natural curls and dusting of freckles on her cheeks.
“Our babies are going to be beautiful,” I said out of the blue.
“Is that why you brought me to your extremely hip van?” Maggie teased. “So, you could get me in the backseat and take advantage of me?”
“Tempting, but no.” I tossed her my sweatshirt and grabbed another one from inside the van then shut the door. “Thought you might get cold later. Besides, I had to lock up my board. That thing’s worth more than my house.”
I chuckled at the irony since my house wasn’t even a house. I cocked my head and considered the masterpiece in front of me. Nah, that work of art was probably worth more than the actual van cost when it was brand new because of the paint job. I really had outdone myself. I turned to Maggie.
“Ready for our walk on the beach?”
Somehow, I knew the minute she stepped off the boardwalk and into the sand. Maybe it was because I knew what time the Surf & Sub shop closed and guessed approximately how long before she and Braden would be done cleaning. The day had been busy, and they probably had a lot to clean.
My surfboard beside me, I had my Bermuda shorts low on my hips, sitting near the water’s edge, enjoying the horizon and the recently departed ball of fire inking the sky in purples and reds. Time for campfires on the beach. I could almost smell the driftwood smoldering as steam lifted from the scarred edges where salt water would perpetually attempt its escape.
There were always plenty of campfires on the beach. I didn’t even need to start one. People just invited me as I walked by, offering me beer from their coolers. I declined but accepted a water bottle or soda. The girls at the bonfires all wanted me to stick around. The guys didn’t even seem jealous even though they knew all it would take is one carefully worded invitation and their girl would follow me down the beach into the darkness of the night.
I was just that guy.
I never did. I wasn’t ready for any of that yet. Not to say that I don’t like girls. I totally, totally like girls. I just hadn’t met her yet and I wasn’t wasting my first time on some random chick at a bonfire on the beach.
Not sure exactly what was the draw. My charisma, maybe. My long eyelashes and mysteriously colorful eyes. My purposefully messy curls that hung just low enough to touch the collar of my shirt, if I wore one. My six-pack abs and perpetually tanned shoulders. My crooked smile. My prowess on the surfboard. My natural talent with a charcoal. My cocky, overconfidence. Probably a combination.
I got hit on constantly. By guys and girls. But like I said, I prefer girls. I think. I mean, I’ve never taken the time to kiss another person. The thought of putting my lips on someone else’s lips. Gross. What caveman suggested placing one’s mouth against someone else’s and basically licking each other was a good thing? Seriously, whose idea was that? The only substance I was putting in my mouth was food, and even that I was rather particular about.
Always wondered what these pseudo friends would think if they found out I was homeless and lived in a van down by Buddy’s Surf Shop. Not to be mistaken with the Surf & Sub shop, although they were across the street from each other. Totally unrelated. Both cashing in on the location and its propensity to draw surfers and other tourists.
Tourists shopped up front at Buddy’s Surf Shop where the t-shirts and impulse items hung on racks.
Surfers knew to come to the back, where we repaired and waxed and shined and sold surfboards and other equipment. I helped out a lot in exchange for my room and board, ahem, place to legally park my conversion van. I taught surfing lessons sometimes, ordered supplies, received shipments, kept track of purchases.
We had a credit card machine there in the back of the shop where guys could take what they needed on their honor, swipe their own card and type in the amount they owed. They didn’t need us. Wax for your board? You know where it is. Grab it off the shelf and swipe your own dang card. We trust you.
Buddy gave me a key to the surf shop last summer when he realized I was there first thing in the morning anyway so why did he need to leave home so early to be here when the UPS guy showed up at eight a.m.
He did have two other real employees who came and went as he needed them, plus his wife. He didn’t pay me, and I didn’t ask him to pay me. Buddy was like the father I never had. He was almost old enough to be my dad. He and his wife, Lili even had me over for Thanksgiving.
The first time Lili met me she pulled me into her arms and just held me. Her voice was husky when she said, “I’ve heard so much about you and I’m glad you’re here.”
Okay… I patted her on the back and wondered how much Buddy had told her in the three days since we’d met, but whatever. I didn’t have a mom anymore, so I’d take it. Unless I made the four-hour drive to visit my grandparents, I didn’t get many hugs.
I think somewhere deep inside I craved hugs because when Maggie came up behind me, that was the first thing I did. I hopped up, brushed the sand off my backside, then pulled Maggie into a hug. She hugged me back like we were old friends. I didn’t even know her last name.
“Oh hey, I’ve got something for you.” She pulled her arms from around my waist and reached into her bag. “Braden said to give this to you.”
“Bonus!” I quickly unwrapped the sub and took a huge bite. A seventeen-year-old guy is never fully satisfied, and a seventeen-year-old homeless guy is never really properly fed. Thank goodness for people like Braden and Buddy. With my mouth still full I asked, “You ready for a walk on the beach?”
“Uh, okay.” She glanced over toward the pier where amusement park rides were still going strong, the young families with perpetually squealing children having been replaced by teenagers and twenty-somethings on dates.
I rode a few rides when I first moved here but really preferred riding the waves to riding a sticky plastic and metal deathtrap covered in gear grease and barely hosed off vomit.
As for me and my date, we’d head in the other direction. Down the beach where we could sink our toes in the wet sand and let the waves wash away the footprints behind us.
I swallowed and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “Don’t worry, I won’t eat like a starving savage when you have me over for dinner to meet your parents.”
“I’ll keep that in mind if I ever invite you over to meet my parents,” Maggie said.
“When,” I said, nodding.
“When you invite me over to meet your parents.” I took another bite, the sub now half gone.
“You said ‘if’ you ever invite me over to meet your parents,” I explained, gulping down my bite so I wasn’t talking with my mouth full again. “What you meant to say was ‘when’ you invite me over to meet your parents.”
“When are you going to invite me to meet your family?” She bumped my shoulder with hers.
“It’s a four-hour drive, so whenever you’re ready, let me know. We might need to stay the night though because it’s a four hour drive each way.”
“Where do they live?”
“Fresno,” I said, not willing to elaborate. If she truly was the one, like I thought she was, she’d find out soon enough. If not, no reason to get that personal. “You ready for our walk?”
I shoved the last bite of sub into my mouth and wadded up the wrapper then leaned down to grab my board and turned toward the surf shop, assuming she’d follow. She did. I took a detour over to the wastebasket near the edge of the boardwalk and threw away the wrapper from my sub, then offered Maggie my hand to help her up the step to the boardwalk.
“Gotta put my board in my van before we take our walk. Come on.” I boldly kept her hand in mine all the way down to where my van was parked beside the surf shop.
Being homeless isn’t that bad when home is a tricked-out conversion van from the eighties parked next to a surf shop near the Santa Monica Pier in California.
That’s not to say I didn’t have a home. I just refused to live there.
My mom no longer lived at my home so there was no reason to live there. Maybe someday my grandparents would tell me who my dad was and then I could meet him, but I didn’t really care. I didn’t need him or anyone else. Well, I needed mom, but she wasn’t around anymore.
The only things I did need were the surf and the sand and an easel and some paper and charcoal pencils.
I had other needs, of course. Food, water, clothes, a place to wash my clothes, a place to sleep, and crap, and eat, not necessarily at the same time, but, you know, depending on how much of hurry I was in. The waves weren’t going to surf themselves. They needed me for that. So, the sooner I could wake up and get out there for dawn patrol, the better.
I needed to surf before the tourists showed up. Not that I didn’t like to surf alongside the tourists. Some guys are seriously good at surfing and fun to watch. I learn a lot watching other guys ride tubes beside me.
No, I needed to get to the pier. Tourists paid me a boat load of money to draw them on the pier. Some of them wanted a caricature. Some wanted a memento. Some of them wanted me to catch their first kiss or proposal.
Many people didn’t even know I was drawing them until they walked past, and I stopped them to show them the stunning portrait I’d created on the fly. They always paid me for that drawing, some more than others. Some gave me their business card and asked me to come draw for a party or event. Support myself with my art? Heck yeah!
One guy invited me to apply for art school at UCLA. I think he was the chair of the art department or something. I told him I had a year of high school left but he told me that was the perfect time to apply. I told him I’d need a full ride with room and board, because, you know, I’m homeless, but he didn’t need to know that. He said, “No problem,” so I gave him the name of my high school and told him to get all the details to my guidance counselor so she could set me up. He said he would. We’ll see. High school was still a month away. Until then, I was going to keep drawing, and keep surfing. Nothing else mattered.
Until I met her.
Good thing I’m a pescatarian because Maggie’s a vegan and she probably wouldn’t have given me a second glance if I’d ordered a hunk of cow on a bun.
I knew the day she started working at the Surf & Sub shop because I frequented that particular restaurant nearly every afternoon. They had the best tuna sandwiches this side of the continent, probably on the planet but I didn’t know because I’d never been out of California.
There were only four items on the menu I ordered, and I tried to rotate them so as not to eat the same thing every day. But when she smiled at me from across the cash register and asked me what I wanted, the word that came out of my mouth was, “You.”
She giggled and tucked a lock of curly brown hair behind her ear. “I’m not on the menu.” She bit her lower lip, and I couldn’t tell if she was shy or coy. I was going with coy.
“Good, I won’t have any competition from other guys.”
“How do you know I don’t have a boyfriend?” she asked.
“I’m quite confident that you do have a boyfriend,” I said. “Me.”
“I don’t even know your name.” She giggled again. I decided that was the most beautiful sound in the world and I vowed to make her giggle as many times a day as I could.
I held out my hand in greeting. “I’m Chad. And you are Maggie.”
“How do you know my name?” She asked me in a way that she thought I’d asked around ahead of time to find out her name, but this was the first time I’d laid eyes on her, so she was wrong.
“Unless your nametag is lying to me, your name is Maggie.” I said.
She rolled her eyes and sighed as if she’d completely forgotten she was wearing a nametag.
“You gonna leave me hanging here, Maggie?” I still had my hand out waiting to take hers. When she placed her hand in mine, it was even softer and warmer than I could have imagined. “I think I’m gonna marry you someday.” I still hadn’t let go of her hand until her manager cleared his throat from beside her.
“I think I need to take your order, Chad.” She pulled her hand back and lifted her chin, all business.
“What’s your favorite thing on the menu?” I asked.
“The vegan sub, of course,” she said. “That’s the only reason I came to work here; to feed my addiction.”
“I’ll try the vegan sub,” I said, but added a caveat. “Can you throw some provolone and tuna salad on that vegan sub.”
“Then it’s not vegan anymore.”
“That’s okay. I’m not a vegan,” I said. “Don’t let that stop you from being my girlfriend. I’m still your guy no matter what food I eat.”
“Shaking things up today, huh Chad?” the manager, Braden asked.
“Had to try my new girlfriend’s favorite sub, Bray.” I didn’t take my eyes off Maggie’s.
“I’ll go get that started for you while you pay the lady.”
“Come here often?” Maggie raised her eyebrows.
“Couple times a week,” I said.
“Every day,” Braden faked a cough.
“I will be now…” I quirked one eyebrow at Maggie.
“I knew this little gal was gonna drum up business,” Braden said. He was halfway through making my sandwich, exactly the way I liked it.
“You keep an eye on my new girlfriend, for me, will ya, Bray?”
“Absolutely.” He finished wrapping my sandwich and handed it to me over the counter. The freshly baked bread was still warm from the oven as if I’d ordered Braden to place my sub under the broiler, which I hadn’t.
I slipped a formerly waterlogged ten-dollar bill into Maggie’s outstretched hand and said, “Keep the change. Your first tip of the day.”
“Second tip,” she corrected me. “A couple of cute guys were in here earlier and they each gave me a tip. So, I guess that would make yours my third tip.”
“Them are fightin’ words, woman.” I backed away from the counter clutching my vegan sub that smelled suspiciously like tuna salad. “Thanks for the sandwich. See ya on the beach later. You’ll know where to find me.”
“What if I don’t want to go to the beach later?” she called out as I was heading out the door.
“You will.” I turned and winked at her as the bell above the door to the sub shop chimed to announce my departure. I chuckled as I walked away from the Surf & Sub shop.
This summer just got a thousand times better.
I sighed as I unwrapped my sandwich.
Prince Benjamin’s mansion was located on the canal with a view of the ocean and a boat slip to park a yacht, not that he owned one anymore. At 99 years old, he wasn’t doing much traveling. Even so, he was still a spritely man full of energy and spunk. He even answered his own door when they knocked.
Levi watched in awe as Benjamin scanned the group of young people on his doorstep and immediately knew which girl was Tiani. He reached forward and gathered her close.
“Oh, mi pequeno,” Benjamin said, pulling Tiani into his arms and calling her his little one. “Hija de mi hermano.”
“Daughter of my brother,” Levi whispered. Several times removed, but close enough.
“Hola, mi tio,” Tiani returned the sentiment, calling him her uncle.
“Tell me all of your names!” Benjamin looked around at the group with gleaming eyes and excitement on his face.
Levi stepped forward and wrapped his arm around Tiani’s shoulders. “I’m Levi Stephenson and I’m Tiani’s husband. This is my brother Nicholas and his wife Becky,” Levi said, pointing to Nicholas and Becky with his other hand.
“Oh, twins!” Benjamin said, then glanced at his Prince Marcos and his wife, Hazel. “Just like our Hazel and her brother.”
Levi wanted to correct him that identical twins were a little more rare than that, but he didn’t. He’d forgotten that Benjamin’s daughter-in-law was twin sister to Mateo, his father’s best friend’s son. Too many connections. He was dizzy trying to piece it all together.
Nicholas nodded at Benjamin and spoke up for the first time. “We are honored to meet you, Your Highness.”
“Oh, the honor is all mine, my son!” Benjamin said. “What a treat this is!”
Levi decided it was time to introduce Prince Benjamin to the other important members of the Sayid family. He gently pushed his twin further to the side in order to bring forward Tiani’s parents. “Your Highness, may I introduce your nephew, Chief Gabor Sayid and his wife Malayna.”
Prince Benjamin inherently knew to switch back to Spanish as he stepped further onto the porch and placed both hands on Gabor’s cheeks, which suddenly had streams of tears. “Hijo de mi hermano.” Son of my brother, just as he had named Tiani as his daughter.
Chief Gabor couldn’t even speak through his tears, just wrapped his arms around Benjamin and laid his head on the old man’s shoulder. They cried together for several long minutes as the rest of them held back to let them have this moment.
Others in the group also choked back tears, except Tiani, who tucked herself into Levi’s arms and sobbed unabashedly, repeating over and over, thank you, thank you to Levi.
Over Tiani’s shoulder, Levi caught Prince Marcos’ attention and reached out to hold his hand. This was a big deal for Benjamin. He never knew his brother, and Gabor never knew that his great-uncle existed much less was still alive. Even his great-great-grandfather was a mystery to him, but here was a chance to learn more about him.
When the two men finally pulled back from each other, Gabor looked into his uncle’s face with pure love combined with a childlike adoration. Levi had never seen such vulnerability on the strong, tattooed Mayan chief, who intimidated everyone in his presence.
“Come inside, my son, and sit with me awhile,” Benjamin said in Spanish. “I will tell you all about your grandfather.”
The End… is only the beginning.
Read how Prince Marcos Sayid ignored death-bed promises to his older brother, Crown Prince Jared Sayid, defied the king, married a woman he’d known for eight minutes, and escaped with their newborn son, Prince Benjamin, before his brother’s widow could follow through with her threats against his family.
Will the Kingdom of Madain Saleh survive evil princesses, secret murder plots, and a contested crown? Find out in the Sayid Family Saga Book Four: Billionaire’s Brother.
Click here for a sneak peek into Chapter One of Billionaire’s Brother
Click here to read more chapters of Billionaire's Brother.
This weekend my husband and I drove up to norther Lower Michigan for what he calls a "color tour" to see all the changing leaves. For the past several years we've been travelling around the State to hunt for the perfect retirement location.
We still have quite a few years to go but we'd eventually like to purchase land and have my son-in-law design my dream house (he's an architect). He says he will design the house to fit the property. I'd really like some beautiful rolling hills and perhaps some water.
Anyway, this weekend we visited Alpena, Michigan, which is where Emanuel Cohen (Manny) lives. I took a bunch of pictures and will share them here along with the corresponding chapters.
Manny's story is the last story in the last book of the Sayid Family Saga, Billionaire's Sons, which is on preorder now and will go live on April 6th, 2021. Yes, you are the lucky ones who get to read this story in advance!
I would love your opinions. Be gentle. These are unedited chapters! As always, any feedback or typo corrections or anything is greatly appreciated. -Julie
Manny's story begins with him (surprise) hunting! Before writing his story I did a ton of research and found an actual location where Aloise might have gotten lost. Here is what that location looks like in real life and the corresponding chapters:
Get the Complete Genealogy Charts of the Sayid Family Saga! (Psst: you're the first people to see this!)
Next Aloise follows Manny back to Alpena where her family's sailing yacht is docked. I couldn't find a boat there as nice as what the Ashish family owned, but you'll get a feel for the location.
The following morning, Manny takes Aloise to brunch at his favorite diner, which happens to be across the street from the Alpena County Courthouse. So, on a whim they decide to go in and apply for a marriage license. In one of these pictures you get the added bonus of seeing my adorable little blue Subaru Outback. I love my Outback!
What else would you want to do after just getting married? Go to Walmart, of course! How else are you going to buy those... umm... family planning supplies discussed back in Chapter Nine. Who cares whether you announce your marriage to the whole small town (where everyone knows everyone) by making out in the aisle next to racks of prophylactic's, running into your former high school principal (in that same aisle), and have the clerk at the grocery store be your (gulp) ex-girlfriend!
Manny and Aloise head back over to her parents' yacht to tell them the good news and to make a phone call to the U.S. Coast Guard!
For some reason the Coast Guard responds more favorably when you call in the big guns... the billionaire mayor, Jacob Cohen! If Manny can keep himself from getting arrested long enough to convince his father to help rescue his wife, Aloise Ashish-Cohen, the woman he told Manny to stay away from!
We hope you have enjoyed this little tour of the harbor town of , Alpena, Michigan and I hope you have loved Manny's story.
Billionaire's Sons can be preordered now, along with the rest of the series! You keep reading. I'll keep writing!
Levi led Tiani along the boardwalk and helped her down onto the powdery sands on the beaches of Puerto Aventuras.
“The ocean is as beautiful as you promised me it would be.” Tiani’s voice filled with wonder. A warm, salty breeze pulled at her skirt, and teased her hair from its braid.
“I agree. But that’s not why I brought you down here,” Levi said. The Barcelo Maya Palace resort stood like a sentinel to their backs as they faced the Atlantic Ocean and the horizon beyond.
They walked forward but not close enough that the sand was wet from the encroaching tides. Levi needed the sand to be dry for this to work. He found just the right spot then pulled Tiani’s hand gently.
“Come sit with me,” Levi said, lowering to a cross-legged position. She sat beside him, but he shifted so they were facing each other. “Do you remember when I told you how many people there were who belonged to your Mayan tribe?”
She nodded. “You said there were as many as the sands on the seashore and I told you I didn’t know what that meant.”
Levi reached out and cradled her hand in his then lifted a handful of sand and let it sift through his fingers and onto her palm. “This is sand.”
Tiani pulled her hand closer to her face and observed the tiny pieces of silica.
“And this—” Levi drew his arm in a circle around them. “—is the seashore.”
“Oh, Levi,” she gasped, her eyes wide with panic. “There is so much.”
“That’s how many of your people there were.”
“Where did they all go?” she asked, a vulnerability to her words.
“We don’t know.” He shook his head sadly. “That’s what we’re trying to find out. And that’s why we want to interpret the writings on the temple pyramid. Your family’s story deserves to be told.”
“What if we can’t figure out what the story is about?”
Levi shrugged. “Then we’re no closer to learning the truth than we were yesterday. But the advances in modern technology, just in the past few years, leads me to believe that we’re going to figure it out.”
“I want to know the story,” Tiani said. “I want to know what they were trying to tell us with the writings they left behind.”
“Me too.” Levi felt emotion prick his eyes and heart.
“The more English I learn, the more I can help you translate,” she said in Yucatec.
“I’ll help you understand English, and you help me understand Mayan.”
“You already know more about my people than I do.” She pushed his shoulder playfully.
“Then I’ll teach you that too.”
“Will you take me back to your place of teaching?” Tiani asked. “I want to learn… everything.”
“Yes, I’ll bring you home to Cambridge and you can sit with me in my office and learn all you can from the good professors at Harvard University and we’ll bring all that knowledge back to your people and teach them.”
“After the rainy season is over,” she said with a gleam in her eye.
“Yes, after the rainy season.” Levi squeezed her hands.
“And after my father builds us a house.” Her words were authoritative.
“Definitely.” Levi leaned forward and kissed Tiani on her lips then grinned. “But first, let’s go meet Prince Benjamin.” He helped her off the sand and they brushed themselves off.
Before stepping onto the boardwalk to head back to the resort, Tiani crouched down again and lifted a handful of sand. She let it sift through her fingers and glanced around one more time.
It was a lot to take in. Levi understood that. Now that Tiani knew, she was eager to learn the truth.
The sun was high in the sky by the time Levi was awakened by an insistent knocking on the door of their suite. Groggy, he dragged himself from the bed and pulled on the cargo shorts that were near the door to the bathroom where they’d been hastily removed and discarded.
Not considering the intrusion could be anyone other than his wife’s parents, and not awake enough to be embarrassed of the mess they’d created, Levi pulled open the door expecting to see his in-laws.
“Surprise,” Nicholas said, standing in the doorway to their suite with Becky by his side.
“What are you doing in Mexico?” Levi excitedly pulled his twin into his arms then reached over to hug Becky.
“A certain prince gave us the heads-up that you two would be returning to civilization briefly and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come see you.”
“I’m so glad you did,” Levi said, stepping back for them to come inside.
Tiani sat up in bed, pulling sheets and blankets up to her chest, and rubbed her eyes.
Becky squealed and ran over, climbing onto the bed and hugging her sister-in-law telling her how excited she was to see her. Tiani laughed nervously and patted Becky on the shoulder, not awake yet.
“What the heck happened in here?” Nicholas asked, picking up Levi’s Polo shirt from off the floor and kicking Tiani’s bra out of the way. There were more articles of clothing on the floor than there were in their suitcase.
“Gimme that.” Levi pulled the shirt from Nicholas’ hands and slipped it over his head.
“What’d you do, have a pillow fight?” Nicholas picked a pillow off the floor, along with one of many blankets strewn everywhere.
“Maybe…” Levi grinned over at Tiani and she giggled. “It was nice to sleep on a bed again.”
“If you slept on the bed, why are all your pillows and blankets on the floor?” Nicholas teased, picking up another blanket.
Levi shrugged and Tiani giggled again. “We had a fun night. What can I say?”
“I can see that.” Nicholas plopped onto the sofa and kicked up his feet, resting them on the low table in the middle of the room. “When are we going to brunch?”
“Don’t you have your own suite of rooms somewhere in this hotel?” Levi asked.
“Right next door, actually,” Nicholas said. “But it’s way more fun pestering you.”
“Pestering is a good way to describe it.” Levi wandered around the room gathering pillows and blankets and piling them back on the king-sized bed. “We need to get showered and dressed before we can go to brunch, so you need to go away for a little while.”
“Come on, Nick,” Becky said, clambering back off the bed. “Let’s give them some privacy and you and I can go next door and have our own pillow fight.”
“I have never said no to a pillow fight.” Nicholas stood from his spot on the couch and headed toward the door.
“I’m so glad you’re here, man,” Levi said. He gave Nicholas one more hug before shooing him from the room with the promise of going to brunch in about an hour.
By the time he was done closing the door on his twin brother, Tiani was already out of bed and heading for the shower again, gesturing with her finger for him to follow her.
“If you insist.” Levi clicked the lock back into place and followed his wife into the bathroom.
Levi bit his tongue and reminded himself to breathe. This was Chief Gabor and Itzel’s first time away from home. Although the chief had travelled to the nearby trading villages and rode in the Jeep down to Flores, he was uncomfortable about the four-hour flight to Cancun.
His wife, Itzel, had a very difficult time adapting. She’d never travelled outside the village even to shop at the trading villages. She got sick on the airplane, plastered her face to the window of the limousine trying to see the Atlantic Ocean, was afraid to walk on the concrete sidewalks at the resort, and decided the bed in her suite was too soft before she even sat on it.
When Tiani tried to show her mother the running water from the sink in the bathroom, Itzel was terrified. They spent an inordinate amount of time explaining the indoor latrine, afraid Itzel would try to use the bushes outside her suite beside the patio.
After an afternoon of trauma, they ordered room service and sat together for a meal at the little table in Gabor and Itzel’s suite, where Gabor discovered television.
Tiani helped her mother get ready for bed in her new and strange environment while Levi helped his new father-in-law learn how to use the remote control, a difficult feat even for people who had grown up with modern technology. Thankfully some of the stations were Spanish language or this would have been a short trip back to the village.
When Levi and Tiani were satisfied that her parents weren’t going to pee in the bushes or burn down the hotel, they said goodnight and snuck next door to their own suite.
They’d barely gotten the deadbolts in place before Tiani was dragging Levi toward her favorite modern amenity, the shower.
If anything in the world convinced Tiani to move back to civilization it would be the shower. She loved standing under the cascading water and breathing the moist, steamy air even before she discovered how much fun they could have taking a shower together.
The king-sized bed was also a dream come true. Sleeping on the ground in the middle of a jungle for weeks was better than being crammed into a small bed with a thin wall between them and her parents, but having enjoyed the spacious townhouse in Cambridge, they knew what they were missing. And this was it.
Lying in each other’s arms, soaking wet and not even caring that they’d likely need to request housekeeping bring them new bedding, Tiani smiled up at Levi from the crook of his arm and he leaned down to kiss the tip of her nose.
“Don’t make me go back to the jungle,” Tiani teased. “I want to sleep in a bed with you every night for the rest of eternity.”
“We can sleep anywhere you want, as long as you are by my side,” Levi said.
“Admit it, that was way more fun than the jungle floor.” Tiani reached over and tickled Levi playfully.
“You want to do it on the floor?” Levi teased right back, pulling her and the blankets to the edge of the bed. “If you insist.”
“Don’t you dare,” she squealed.
“Oh, I dare,” he said, rolling off the side, being careful to make sure he landed first to break her fall. With as many downy blankets and pillows that followed along with them, it wouldn’t have mattered.
“You brat!” She hit him playfully and he could tell she wasn’t really angry.
“This plush carpeting is softer than anything we’ve slept on in weeks anyway.” He rolled over so that he was looking down at her and he brushed the strings of hair away from her face, grateful she’d thought to bring her lemongrass oils and combs along on their trip. For a moment they just stared at each other with soft grins. “You’re so beautiful. How did I get so lucky to have you choose me for your husband?”
“My father chooses who I can marry,” she teased. “I had no choice, remember?”
“Oh, you had a choice. You chose to place your hands on my chest, knowing that action would set into motion your carefully-planned lure to get me to the altar.”
“I couldn’t help it.” She whispered as she placed her hands on his chest once again. “I didn’t plan that, or choose that, I just couldn’t help it.”
“Fate brought us together,” Levi whispered back.
“I’m still sleeping up on the bed tonight,” she said with a playful gleam in her eye.
“Not quite time to go to sleep though, is it?”
“Definitely not.” Tiani wrapped her arms around Levi’s neck and pulled him down for another long kiss.
The tent worked well as a temporary solution but Levi and Tiani agreed; they wouldn’t be staying in the village too much longer. They threw themselves into the task of teaching anyone who wanted to learn to read and write Spanish, and to speak English.
Levi loved watching Tiani read books to the kids of the tribe. They would sit around her, and she would try to sound out words. She knew Spanish well enough that using context clues she was able to pick up reading rather quickly.
Tiani was very intelligent. He’d known that since their first conversation and from the way her eyes were always capturing her environment. But this was impressive.
He wanted to help her enroll in classes at Harvard when they returned home so she could dig deep into the languages. After the experience at the wedding reception when she’d been ridiculed for her broken English, she was determined to master the language.
Levi spent time each day over at the temple pyramid, often alone, studying the etchings and carvings, analyzing the collection. Some days he sat as far away as he could from the structure to look for any patterns not initially obvious. Other days he spent hours cleaning the stone carvings with a soft brush, evaluating them at the granular level.
In many ways, the weeks since he first stepped foot on this sacred site had been the best of his life. Most of what he was doing could be done from his climate-controlled office, but the feel of the temple site wasn’t something that could be experienced through a computer screen.
The hypnotic peace of the afternoon was interrupted by a ringing and vibrating from inside his backpack, which sat on the ground near his feet. He pulled out the satellite phone expecting the phone number to be that of his brother or one of the other team members, but he didn’t recognize the number.
He answered in English hoping whoever was calling would be able to understand. “Hello, this is Dr. Stephenson.”
“Levi, this is Mark Sayid, what are you up to?”
“I’m standing at the base of the most incredible temple pyramid ever created by the hands of men, interpreting ancient texts, and getting eaten alive by mosquitos the size of hummingbirds.”
“Another day in paradise.” Prince Marcos chuckled along with Levi. “How would you like to take a break and come meet my father?”
“Prince Benjamin? I would love that. Are you in Mexico?”
“Making preparations to head there in a few days. When my father learned who you had stumbled upon, he insisted I bring you and Tiani and her father to come meet him.”
“Oh, what a great idea,” Levi said, in awe. “Prince Benjamin. Wow. I never thought I’d have the opportunity. I’ll return to the village and begin making plans. Shall we meet you in Puerto Aventuras?”
“That would be ideal,” Prince Marcos said. “Do you need me to send you a private jet?”
“No, we bought one, but thank you.”
“There’s a resort there called the Barcelo Maya Palace. I’ll book you a couple of suites and you can arrive as soon as tomorrow, but I won’t be there for at least another two or three days. I’ll prepay for us to stay for several weeks. That way we can spend as much time as we’d like allowing all of you to get to know each other.”
Levi was gathering his things together as they were talking, growing more and more excited. As he said goodbye to Prince Marcos, Levi turned to have one more look at the magnificent structure that had changed his life, not sure how soon he would return. Then he hurried into the tunnel to go find his wife and in-laws.
Time to introduce them to the modern world as well as connect them to their distant past.
A stand alone novella in the All's Fair in Love and Sports Series by Julie L. Spencer.