Well this fucking sucks, I said to myself as I sat under an umbrella at an outdoor taco bar. Almost a hundred bucks a night for a room with a cracked tub, air that only worked when it wanted to, and crappy sheets with a hole that my big toe had found twice my first night in LA. If I wasn’t careful as hell, I’d go through all my money within a month. Even worse, I had no place to live when it was time to leave and head back to nothing…and no one. A few hours later, with my stomach still wishing for something more than a crispy shell with more lettuce than meat, I shrugged my shoulders and just told myself that I’d probably have to get a damn job…doing something.
For the next two days, I did all the stuff every tourist did. I walked, looking at all the stars imbedded in the sidewalk, watched a guy pull money from thin air, and ignored two other guys who tried to pick me up while wondering at the same time if females were somehow hard to come by in California. I was clean but my crazy hair was a mess only because the damn socket in the little bathroom didn’t work and I hadn’t been able to blow it dry while styling it. And that thought made me laugh, because I’d never been able to do much with it. Even when I worked for a half hour trying to straighten it, my brown mop always ended up curling like those thin ribbons you see on Christmas gifts. I realized that it’s always worse when it’s damp or humid, and this place wasn’t just warm, it also left me feeling clammy after I’d walked only a block or so.
That night I tossed and turned, going over exactly how to keep from staring, how to walk away, how to stop myself from gaping at a woman that didn’t know me from Adam, but most of all how to not shed one single stupid tear. I even considered not going at all...but then I’d think about the fact that I would have wasted the money I’d already spent. After deciding that I’d walk the nearest beach to her home first, allowing the water to lap over my feet while I stared at the ocean, I finally drifted off.
Fourteen hours later, I had this awful urge to throw my Garmin out the damn window. Dumb me had never bothered to update it and of course, I’d made three wrong turns, and was heading south instead of north along the coast. Six miles down the road, I finally found a place to make a U-turn and twenty minutes after, I found one beach out of the five I’d passed that said ‘public’ instead of ‘private’. The parking area was small with only one other car and I pulled in directly across from it.
I’m here, I said out-loud as I watched seagulls swooping through the air, waves crashing against huge rock that had either fallen sometime in the past from the hills behind me…or maybe had been tossed there only because they were in the way when the road was built. Even though it was late spring, the water still had a real chill to it but I splashed through it anyway, soaking the bottom of my jeans that I’d rolled up almost to my knees. A dog barked in the distance, somewhere behind me as I bent down to pick up a shell, feeling the little lines across the muted pale pink and blue colors it had somehow collected as it formed.
Before I had a chance to stand, two paws collided with me while a wet nose sniffed my arm and then huffed out a breath as it jumped up and down on its hind legs. Laughing, I turned to see a black Labrador dancing around in the sand. His brown eyes almost seemed to smile as he licked my hand, looked up at me, and then licked me again. A minute later I heard a whistle, followed by a deep male voice coming from behind one of those big boulders that sat half in the water and half on the shore.
“Scotch, you crazy dog…where’d you go boy?” were the only words he said, but crap the second I saw him walk around that boulder I was mesmerized, and the closer he got I could literally feel a stupid blush building until it rushed across my face. All the while, the dog bounded back and forth between the two of us while the guy grinned as he came closer, and I just fucking stood there like a dunce.
“Hey,” he said as he scratched the dogs head, “sorry but he’s still a pup and hasn’t learned that everyone in the world doesn’t want to be kissed, licked, or jumped on.”
Not one word would come out and I sure as hell knew I was staring; staring at light brown eyes, dark brows, and black, wind-blown hair. Suddenly I shivered, and immediately he looked at me with a somewhat worried expression. “Cold…and no towel. Damn, I usually carry one so I can dry him off a little.”
That shiver wasn’t from the cold, I somehow wanted to say. Of course, I didn’t but I knew why I had. He was too everything; too hot, too V shaped, too deep of a voice, too…just too much male to exist in only one man.
“It’s okay,” I finally blurted out. “Stupid me didn’t stop to think…just wanted to wade in the water, that’s all.”
I turned ready to run, but instead quick walked toward my car. All the while, I could feel him staring at my back. “Hey green eyes, would you like a cup of coffee? I only live a few yards from that spit of sand you were heading toward.”
Well piss, I wanted to say no. I knew that I should most definitely say no, but instead I turned around. “Yes, I’d really like one. To be honest, I am a little chilled. Didn’t stop to think about those waves coming in and the fact that the sun hadn’t really warmed them much.”
He waited as I walked toward him, while I took deeper breaths the closer I got. He didn’t say anything else as we headed down the beach. Instead, he picked up a stick, throwing it again and again while the dog wagged his tail as he brought it back with happy, bounding doggy strides. I kept my head down, looking but not really seeing the shells scattered among small rocks, more than likely chipped off the many boulders that went on forever.
“Here we are,” he said a few minutes later.
I looked up and immediately my mouth opened while my eyes widened. Two big white boxes at different angles sat on top of each other with windows everywhere. This wasn’t a house; it was like one of those pictures you’d see in a magazine…or maybe in one of those little brochures that seemed to be on every street corner, with the cost of a bus tour to “the homes of the stars”.
I stopped, afraid to look at him while my mind went a little nuts, trying to think of a reason to leave because I still shied away from males. “I’m sorry,” I finally said, “but I really have to get back on the road.”
I didn’t wait for a response. Instead I just turned around and headed to my car, but once again I could literally feel him looking at me until I was finally out of sight. Damn it, damn it, damn my stupid self for saying yes to begin with, I repeated as I slammed the car door and started the engine.
After driving about ten miles and then making three turns, I drove past the return address on those letters, seeing a well landscaped home that perhaps held a piece of my past. My insides felt like a million butterflies were dancing around, my hands were damp, and suddenly I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this. Maybe I was afraid I’d open a box that I had no right to open, or maybe I just didn’t want to look inside that box at all.
A half block later I pulled over, ran a comb through my hair, tugged at my jeans until they were once again straight and sat against my ankle where they belonged. And then I circled back, looking at the name of the next street so my excuse for stopping would at least seem valid. Taking a deep breath, I turned off the ignition, got out, and headed toward a topaz blue door that stood on the right side of a big cream colored home with windows that almost filled the front wall. I knocked and waited for someone to open it. Then I knocked a little louder, almost glad that maybe no one was home. The moment I let go of the breath I’d been holding and began to walk away, the door opened and someone said, “Can I help you?”
I turned back, seeing my mother, or what I thought she’d look like now. And then I bit down on my lip trying not to cry. “Oh, I’m so sorry. This isn’t Laurel, is it? I must have missed my turn.”
The woman at the door stared at me with green eyes like my own until I finally smiled and then headed back toward my car.
“Julianna? Are you Julianna?” I heard her say. My body shuddered as I looked down, watching my feet betray me as they stopped with not regard as to what I wanted them to do.
“Jules, everyone calls me Jules,” I replied, hoping she didn’t hear my whispered response.
“Don’t you dare walk away from me! You look so much like Bess, that for a moment I thought I was seeing the past.”
Of course, fucked up stupid tears started to gather in the corners of my eyes and before I could count to five, they were spilling over until they ran down my cheeks.
A moment later, long, graceful fingers touched my shoulders, turning me until I was face to face with a woman so familiar that suddenly I could remember her smiling down at me while my mother held my hand, saying things that had long ago disappeared from my mind.
She didn’t speak as she led me back along the walkway, opened the door to her home, said a few words in Spanish to a small woman, and then sat down on a couch while pulling me with her.
Neither of us said a word as she dabbed her eyes while handing me a tissue of my own. A few minutes later, the woman she’d spoken to brought a tray with mugs full of coffee, along with cream, sugar, and two gold plated spoons. I took a long, soothing sip, wondering if like me, she used this specific drink to get through everything whether good or bad.
Three hours later I’d learned so much, that parts of it were hard to hold on to. My mother had been a model and had already been on the cover of two magazines when she’d met my father. He’d been working on a race car, and when she’d stopped for gas it was love at first sight - at least in her eyes. For a while they’d followed the circuit, always believing the next race would be the one that would make him a star. It never happened. Instead his misery became hers. He turned to booze while my mother’s life became smaller and smaller.
In the meantime, my aunt had gone from modeling like my mother to bit parts in movies. When I was four, they met for a few hours. The woman who still sat beside me had begged her sister to leave my father that day, because of what she saw; haunted eyes with no future and a little girl that was never allowed to just be a kid. It was then that she’d sent my mother the final letter I’d found.
When my aunt had married two years later, she’d been swept into the upper crust of Hollywood. And like my mother her world revolved around his, until the past became nothing more than the past. Her husband was and still happened to be Brian Mitchell. Funny but sitting with her, I could see him as a young man only because of the old movies I used to watch. The couple I lived with at the time liked that type of stuff and I had no choice but to sit with them. I also learned that he still dabbled in the arts but was directing now instead of being the hero or the villain.
In the end, I told her about me; told her how her sister had died, how I’d been told that I had no relatives, and was shuffled from house to house until I turned eighteen. When I told her about the box, my bear, and those long-lost letters we both cried again…but this time someone held me. It was a strange feeling and I wasn’t really sure I liked it. At the same time, it felt like some weird circle had finally closed.