“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?”