“No one can tell a caterpillar how to become a butterfly. The instructions are built in.”
Our summer house is named after a Roman goddess of war.
My father built it on a rocky cliff overlooking the crescent shoreline of a small California beach community. Like a bleached white nest perched on a high branch the house sits empty during the winter. It was here where I’m told I took my first steps, and where I started the journey into womanhood at exactly the wrong time and it was at Bellona where I read my first vampire novel. The little seaside town of Willow is not that far from where we live in San Francisco. Our summer life unfolds slowly; much different from the fast paced life we live on the city-side of the Golden Gate Bridge. Piles of mail build up at the post office as we vacation. Letters and junk mail must wait for us to return while delicate antique roses bloom in our garden courtyard without the anticipation of my mom’s watchful eyes.
Normally, the waters of my life are calm—no open ocean stuff ever happens here. I like the shiny happy things; like how the morning sunlight bathes all life equally in the city, where chalk-color houses nestle tightly on terraced folds of earth and line the city streets. Every single day spent in the city, any city, brings a deluge of new faces. A million strangers blend into the scenery like pictures glued on cardboard cutouts creating a human collage. I am a Sagittarian, so call me a dreamer. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying it is all harps and halos for me, but I like my life. My name is Giselle Ayelet Gaddiyel, but everyone just calls me Elle. So even though things are usually pretty good in my world I have this strange feeling in my gut. Something’s off, the way the air changes and birds get loud and then disappear right before a big storm kind of off. I also just found out my oldest friend Eran Michael is not coming to the beach for almost two more weeks. Seriously? Eran, hello, I thought we had plans?
I don’t know how “the brushoff” started between us. Or even why we both let all of the opportunities to see each other slip away one at a time until the space between us grew so big it became unknown territory. I haven’t seen Eran Michael for over a year now. He got quiet and weird the last time we hung out and then it didn’t help he spent all of last summer volunteering at a Christian summer camp in Lake County. It was sweet he would do something like that but at the same time it was random and I got caught off-guard by his silence. Although he sent some iPhone pictures of a beautiful lake at the base of an extinct volcano, Mt. Konocti, he didn’t bother to include any pictures of himself which is weird because he knows I have pictures of us from every summer.
Now I don’t know what to expect from him anymore and I am confused by the way he refuses to say why he won’t be here until later, and why he decided to avoid me like the plague in the first place. I still want to be able to say Eran is my best friend. Obviously, I could storm the city gates, show up in his living room and make him see me. But what would it prove and where would it get me? Somehow forcing the issue between us doesn’t feel organic at this point. I don’t remember there ever being a time when easy and natural wasn’t our norm. That’s why I know something unnatural has come between us. I don’t like it, this stinks, and I am the one waiting and wondering. And why does my dad have to go to Dallas Texas for most of our family vacation when he usually works hard to make sure we don’t get separated in the summer?
And then there is the grueling nightmare I had while we were still in the city. Seriously, what the heck? It felt too real and why did I get chased by a bloodthirsty werewolf-man-beast? I don’t usually get hunted by lycanthrope at the seashore in my dreams and I’m left wondering why the white stallion left me alone with Wolfie in my time of need? Telling people about your bad dreams never does justice to how real it felt at the time. I may be at the crossroads of my shiny normal and cloudy dark with a chance of rain. I’m just a girl who loves fuzzy pink-and-white striped toe socks, the smell of fresh crayons and my small collection of Japanese Pez dispensers. And I still love vampires and paranormal romance. But I can’t deny a monster came into my room.
Merlin, the magician, was said to have been fathered by an incubus. It is also said that prolonged sex—with an incubus or succubus—leads to sickness and death.
Mara Jane Larafet leans forward to get a closer look. In front of her, a clouded old Victorian mirror hangs precariously on the bathroom wall. Mara lives alone in the staff quarters. The staffers who still worked the ranch when Mara first arrived made jokes about how the servants quarters where shored up with bubble gum, duct tape, and pieces and parts. All that is left of the once hefty estate now are the remnants of an old family sheep ranch. Mara is the last employee to remain at Brooks Ranch. Her role is the caretaker of the lonely old man who has sadly outlived his wife, family, and farm. Now Mr. Brooks lives alone in a place where there is no regard for old people.
Partially shrouded in a smoky haze, Mara, sits catlike on the rim of the old white porcelain sink. In the mirror, a smitten nineteen-year-old girl with long black hair peers deep into her dilated green eyes, bewitched by her reflection. Mara’s blood-red lips look full and exotic against her milk-white, heart-shape face. ‘They will never call me Snarly Marly again!’ She laughs at the thought. Around her delicate neck hangs a handmade clay pendant of Bastet, an ancient Egyptian goddess with the body of a woman and the head of a domestic cat. The unclean thing she wears afflicts and curses her with permission but without her knowledge.
Her mother’s face only rarely appears in her memories now. Mara found ways to forget the last time her mother kicked her pale little legs out from under her, dropping her to the floor. She left home that day and never went back. Angry thoughts fill her mind. ‘She could have brushed my hair—my mom could have brushed my hair instead of laughing at me and calling me Snarly Marly.’
Mara Jane pulls away from the old mirror. Her petite body loosens from a gazing pose. Lissome as a ragdoll, she slides off the porcelain sink and abandons her perch with the ease of a snake swimming through murky water. Music from another room weaves sex and magic through the ether. She speaks to a mysterious male figure resting in her bed. Mara makes a request of him.
“You’re gonna get me my offering in time, aren’t you? I need the energy! I can feel myself getting stronger every day.” He answers.
“Come to me, my priestess, my muse, my lover, my magic. I live to serve you.”
And the serpent said unto the woman,
Ye shall not surely die:
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof,
then your eyes shall be opened,
and ye shall be as gods,
knowing good and evil.
Do not ask questions of fairytales. When the evening fog lifts and morning light floods in through the windows at Bellona, it feels reverential and timeless; like the silence that grows when you walk in the giant redwoods. As I’ve grown past my tween-age years I find I like to separate from my fam to spend some alone time on the gallery swing. My dad, Eythan Gaddiyel, designed the veranda with a Rivendell-ish theme and although it’s not a split valley below the intent carries over. When I was younger I read—or should I say devoured—most of the Harry Potter series in this special place. Centered between two green towering Italian cypress trees is a Gothic-black wrought-iron bench. The ocean wind blows against the trees and lifts the piney scent into the air. Every summer since I can remember those tall green cypress trees stand guard over me like medieval spires and create a gateway to mythical enchanted worlds beyond the sea.
My day starts out with one of those mystical mornings. I’m stretched out on a soft white leather sofa. I hold my hand up, shape it like a cup and move it back and forth until the blue glass ball on the counter looks like a big blue orb in the palm of my hand. I turn my impossibly long arm and witness a forest of small white hairs and the smallest particles of dust come into focus as they float airily past. I listen to the sssh sssh sssh sound of my little brother Benny. He is stretched out on the floor on a thick black and gold oriental rug. He pretends to land a ghostly green plastic ship on the tufted side of a sapphire-sheened pillow. Our dad slides down in his ugly old brownish-orange recliner from his college days and re-reads a Frank Lloyd Wright book. Effortlessly, he reaches out and takes a hot cup of golden honey green tea from our mom without even the slightest glance up at her—but his smile says that he believes she floats from room to room and cares for our every need.
Dad laughs because there is an unspoken tension between them, like when my mother threatens to throw his ugly chair away. He smiles because he knows it is a joke. She would never throw one of the only remaining mementos of his bachelor days away. They have a private put-on about the chair, and for some reason, it involves the threat of dads favorite piece of furniture being dowsed with a whole can of Lysol. Or my mom accidently sends it out to sea. I have no idea. But it’s clear my parents have found a way to live always-in-love.
With two sudden words; “Hey guys!” my mom breaks the spell we linger in and cheerfully asks if we will all get ready to walk down to the beach with her. I’m not ready to move yet and I’m not ready to go walking on a windy beach either. Benny’s over eager “Yeah-yeah-yeah, let’s go down to the beach” I turn toward my mom and let the swan-like curve of my long thin neck slowly tilt until my head is bent low with a full bloom pout on my lips. My body language says “I will be the last to follow, and if I can get out of this I’m going for it.” Mom’s unchanged gait assures me she knows I will fall in line and be right behind them. Her body language says “You’re not getting out of this!” I rest on the sofa for a while longer in a daydream. When I hear my mom’s voice coming from the kitchen it brings me back from La-La Land.
“Mom, are my gray (true religion) sweatpants in the laundry?”
After a brief silence, I hear her again.
“Yes, they’re in the dryer.”
“Thank you!” I say. I hear her mumble quietly under her breath as she wrangles with a giant silk dragonfly kite.
“You’re welcome honey. See you down at the beach.”
“Ok!” I move like a giant sloth.
For the most part, our days and nights at Bellona are usually peaceful and very predictable. By now you probably already know I like to spend my quiet time curled up with a good book. And that often is where we’ll find my dad. Sci-Fi, ratty chair, hot tea, and dried fruit. That’s one of his comfort zones. He also loves to get up early, put on his wetsuit and surf the frigid cold waters of the Red Triangle region of northern California. Since I was little, my dad has affectionately called me Gidget. He has also shared his passion for surfing with me. Benny. Not so much! ‘He’s not swimming with sharks!’
Summer attire for my dad: his old khaki Gramiccis, soft cotton t-shirts, and his favorite brown leather flip flops. My little brother Benny is our rosy-cheeked cherub baby. With his gray-blue eyes and warm maple-brown hair, he looks just like our dad—so much so my dad calls him Mini-Me. One distinct feature Benny got from our mom that I didn’t get is the cowlick tuft of hair over his right eye—but I did get the gap in between my top front teeth.
My mom, Ginette Ayelet Jaffe, was a young art student and a model when she met my dad, and he instantly fell head over heels (in love) with her. Mom doesn’t deny it took her a wee bit longer to share his feelings. Everybody loves my mom and thinks she is the sweetest person they know. She is sweet, but she can still get mad as heck if she asks us to do something and it doesn’t get done. She moves quickly through the room picking up discarded articles of clothing (that’s mostly Benny) and other random things moved from their stations, but there is still a sort of calmness in her desire for order. But we always know she expects help. ‘Close the drawers when you are done getting dressed, little man, and Elle, could you sort your whites from your colored clothes, please? It just makes it easier for me, unless you want to do this all yourself. I am only doing this to help you, but I can stop anytime!’
At the heart of me I am a very private person, and not into a lot of social networking, which is the complete opposite of the few people I call my friends and of my generation in general. But I wouldn’t say that I’m off the grid or my social life is non-existent. I just have to be careful with my info. My dad never lets me forget it.
My real friends know it bothers me when people “assume” I want to be a model. To me the assumption suggests my options in life are based on my genes and parental connections. Right now I don’t have a clue what I want to do when I grow up. I don’t want strangers violating my privacy, or taking pictures of me without permission. I didn’t sign up for that kind of attention. Sometimes paparazzi just means creep with a camera. I learned the hard way the best thing to do when I’m feeling tired or ragged and moody out in public is twist my white hair up into a topknot, put on my darkest shades, and hide under my hoodie. Right now I can barely remember what the line in that article said about me when I was twelve. I fell asleep on the plane coming home from Ft. Lauderdale. Oh yeah, red-faced and moody.
Fashion is a little bit different for me than it is for my friends. I love to wear my Madden cognac Wyliees, but when I do I’m over six-foot-six. Yeah, that’s not so easy to hide, but I always know what’s on top of the refrigerator! I can see a lot of things from up here, like the bald spot on Mr. Harvester’s head in math class. I know he doesn’t like it because he moves away from me every time I get close to him. I turn my homework in; he asks if I need anything? The thin yellow strip of hair from the back of his head sprayed over his bald spot doesn’t look like bangs. It just seems fuddled. In our family we say things like “when I go to university,” not “if I go,” and we know the thread count of our woven in Italy finery. We live a privileged life, I guess, but I don’t think my little brother and I are spoiled by our parents like rotten fruit just because our family has been blessed. I would never want to be known as a mean girl, and my moody interior? That’s just something I’m growing into at the moment but I have hope that it won’t last forever. I don’t like feeling like an alien in my own skin but there is no denying I’m going through changes.
Alice falls down the rabbit hole. It seems like when you don’t want your time together to end; it happens too quickly. We have only been at the beach for a few days, but my father has to leave this afternoon for the building project in Dallas. We are all super bummed that he has to leave. He hardly ever misses his time with us, I know he has to go or he wouldn’t. My mom looks disconnected. She’s never off course. Mom and Benny will take him to the airport in Oakland after we all eat breakfast together. I’ve opted to hang out here today. I want to go to my favorite little bookstore, and I don’t want to wait until later. The bookstore in Willow has a cozy reader’s nook, and it just happens to sit on the San Andreas Fault line. Maybe that’s our magical little town’s real source for the pools of creative energy everyone seems to experience when they come here. Everyone leaves here enchanted.
First on my reading list is the first book in the third trilogy. Locten Becomes Death. In this particular series, there are three trilogies with the same characters. I’m bound to it because the players keep mutating, so the story must go on. No, I haven’t forgotten that horrible dream. The nightmare I can’t seem to share just yet. Ugh-blah! Okay, so I won’t pretend it’s a secret I want to keep going because I feel the nagging twitch to start a new story full of fantasy and romance. One with a new troubled and tortured. The gorgeous guy who has nothing to lose until he meets the beautiful girl who changes everything!
Earlier this morning my mouth watered at the smell of bacon and pancakes. On the kitchen table I found the comic pages spread out for us kids. I remember the days when our golden lab Sandy was still alive and how she always caused complete chaos at the smell of breakfast cooking. Sandy spun around and yapped relentlessly at the sound of our footsteps as we each found our way into the kitchen. We all miss her so much, and Benny begs our parents for a puppy, which he swears he will take care of, all by himself. Yeah, Benny, you say that now!
Anyway, we spend our morning the way we usually do before things start to get hectic; all together at the kitchen table. Now it’s time for my dad to finish up and get ready to leave. It’s hard for him; I can tell. He rubs his gentle hand over Benny’s soft buzz-haired head and apologetically looks us all in the eyes. In the hustle of his departure Dad drops his keys; he bends down to pick them up and the shimmering fragments of rainbow colors splash through the crystal prisms in the windows. Dancing lights bounce off the white walls and fill the living room. Magic scatters in primary colors and lands on my dad’s face; he promises to come home as soon as possible. The heavenly scented yellow roses he bought for my mother have bloomed. He leans down again, this time to pick up his suitcase. He looks at me with such concern in his eyes and the small lines on his forehead deepen.
“Elle, I don’t want you to walk outside the gate or go anywhere by yourself.” He says.
“I know, Dad.”
“That’s the rule!” He demands, with a stern look on his clean-shaven face.
“I’ll be okay while you’re gone Dad, I swear!” I don’t smile at him. He doesn’t smile at me either.
“Look me in the eye, honey.” Now he is really beginning to bug me.
“Yeah, Dad I get it!” After accidently snapping at him I give in and surrender. Air out, chest deflates and shoulders slump.
“Elle, please take this seriously. Honey, I love you, and I need to know you are listening to me without blowing me off as being over protective. Okay? Even if I am overly protective I have the right to expect you to obey me.”
He goes for the gold in our little father daughter game of tug of war; he puts out his pinky and says, “Pinky-swear!” That’s pretty much my move, but I let him use it on me since he’s stressed about leaving. So I give in to his request and humor him. My right-hand moves toward him on autopilot with a firm body posture and a conforming smile on my face, I lock my pinky with his.
“I promise I will not go anywhere without having someone with me—and I’m not blowing you off. I love you Dad.”
After a kiss on my cheek and one last “I love you too darling,” he is gone. The scent of Victorian Lime No.74 Taylor of Old Bond Street still lingers in the air. The morning rainbow is gone as well. After my mom and Benny leave to take my dad to the airport things get seriously sweet. So I do a crazy dance around the house for a bit wearing one of my dad’s black and electric blue silk ties I find hanging over the back of the couch. I dance my way through the living room. Ugly. Sexy. Awkward. I dance like David before the Lord except my clothes don’t fall off. A pile of rejected things resulted from my dad’s last minute suitcase inspection. My mom had apparently gone into his things and gone overboard with extra stuff that he might need. That felt great but I’m finished with my victory dance and I need to take a shower. Eventually, I end up just hanging around waiting for my hair to dry, so I send a text to my friend, Erica, to see if she and her mom Connie will walk to the bookstore with me. Five minutes later I get a text back.
Yeah! My mom wants to buy us lunch c u at ur gate 11:40:)Mwah!!! Missed u.
My skinny jeans are shrinking. Again. I twist my damp hair up into a topknot and lean toward the Italian beveled mirror hanging on my bedroom wall over a pink and black marble dresser. I scrutinize the light strawberry and cream glow on the square contour of my face. Inspect the fresh pink coral paint on my short nails and the fat pink heart ring on my pointer finger. Then a juicy sweet apricot gloss to make sure my lips look naturally plump and full. My cell is fully charged. I’m ready to leave the house, and everything feels peachy. So, let’s get this party started.
After I send my mom a text to let her know I’m not walking by myself, I head down to our gate to wait for Erica and Connie. Erica’s mother Connie is more like a sister to her than a mother, and I guess it’s understandable. Being replaced by a sexy twenty-two-year-old would play tricks on your womanhood unless you’re secure enough in yourself to see your cheater husband is a creep and sending him to the curb is the best possible scenario. Just my op. We sit down at our regular table outside on the patio of the cafe across from the bookstore. It doesn’t take long and we quickly catch up with our summer-life gossip. We all laugh at everything that is even remotely funny. Erica is on a crazy random boy humor roll. Petite and pretty, but she finds the grossest things to be funny. Speaking of random, Erica cheekily puts it out there.
“Okay. Truth or dare? Elle, you’re first.” She leans her small shoulders into our allotted dining space and waits. I think about it.
“Let’s see… Erica, since I don’t feel like moving, I guess—truth!”
“Have you ever farted in public and pretended it was someone else?” She asks without shame and lounges back in her white plastic chair. Her soft hemp heather gray t-shirt rests flat on her belly.
“Eww!” I say with a tone of disapproval pretending I have to think about it. The routine makes it funnier. I answer her tainted question.
“Yes! Kinda. I tooted once while I was in line at the snack bar. I pinched my nose and looked at some poor dog lying down by his owner and said, Pooh! Was that you boy?”
Connie lays her head down on the table and exclaims, “I can’t believe what you girls will say these days. Elle, did you really do that?” My face is red now.
Not trying to hide her satisfaction, Erica declares, “Oh, you’re not getting out of this without playing. Mom—truth or dare?”
“Do I have to tell the truth if you ask me something I don’t want to answer?”
“Well, let’s see if you have the cha-chas to play, Mom. This is the G-rated version, just so you know. Truth or dare?”
Connie hesitates and says, “Well, okay, dare I guess.”
Connie’s golden necklace sparkles in the sun and BVLGARI Jasmin Noir blooms around her. My tongue probes the gap between my teeth to make sure there is no green baby spinach stuck on them. Erica shamelessly uses the plastic straw she was gnawing on to perform pirouettes on the table. Looking a little bit sinister now, the unnatural grin on Erica’s face is designed to put the fear in her poor mom.
“Do you see that guy with the yellow scarf? The one who’s been watching us since we got here?” She asks Connie. The air smells like French fries, onions and warm ketchup. Connie slightly turns aside and glances at him. She takes a minute.
“Yes. I see him!” Connie finally says. Erica daringly tells her mom to stand up, look him in the eye, and spank herself. Hard! It is obvious Connie is stunned.
“Sheesh! Erica, I don’t know where you come up with this stuff. I can’t do that.” The hairspray holds her platinum coif tightly like a soup bowl. Small lines from years of smoking frame her lips now devoid of color. Did she ever look like Erica? Fresh.
“Sure you can mom. Don’t you always say you can do anything you set your mind to?” It’s hard to tell Rica no. Connie replies with obvious reserve.
“I’m only going to do this to show you I’m not an old fuddy-duddy.”
Connie never wants to look old or left in the past, and Rica feels obliged to help her mom stay relevant. Rica is not surprised, but I can’t believe it—she does it! Miss Connie gets up, looks directly at the guy, spanks herself and calmly sits back down. After Connie winks at (yellow scarf guy), she arranges her white paper napkin neatly across her slender lap and holds her composure while we girls laugh our silly butts off. The man in the scarf smiles and seems to get the picture; stop side-eyeing us and mind your own business, please. All in all, he is pretty good about it. Then it’s Erica’s turn. She has no fear. I give her the choice.
“Okay, Rica what will it be. Truth or dare?” She remains comfortably laid back, her smile relaxed and confident.
“Since my dear mother is here, I guess it will have to be… dare.”
“Erica, I dare you to go into the bathroom for a long time and when you come out have a long trail of white toilet paper dragging from your back side. Muahaha!” My neck slightly tilts to the right, and with pouty lips, I proclaim, “Love you!” The concrete floor warms quickly and the ice in our glasses melts into soda-tinted water. While our drink glasses sweat the bread dries and hardens at the edges. Brave annoying little birds hop around our table looking for crumbs and begging for treats. Waiters waiting. Diners dining. Beggars begging. Players. Erica gets up and disappears for a while and Connie talks about my options for school and life in general and just when we could have forgotten about our game Erica walks out the door and heads for our table.
Her light strawberry waves of untamed hair loosely piled on her head, and two small braided pigtails lay on her delicate shoulder blades. Golden hoop earrings gleam and shimmer against her light brown skin. Her smile is contagious and stretches her thin berry-plum color lips, and before she can sit down with her white paper tail, the young guy that’s been waiting on us steps on it. He rolls it up into a ball and tosses it into the trash can under the counter. He doesn’t say a word about it but by this time I’m sure it’s evident we are incorrigible. Erica takes a sip of her coke and says, “Thank you!” then she laughs so hard she pees a little and coke spews out of her nose. It feels good just to be here with my friend. The morning fog is completely gone now.
We laugh until our stomachs hurt. Erica insists she has to go home and change, so Connie asks for the check. While we wait for the waiter to come back, I look up and watch a fat white seagull soar over our heads. I imagine how easy it would be for him to drop wet bird pooh in my eye and my black and silver Guess shades go back on. My mind wanders a bit while I think about the space between me with these giddy girls and the gull, silently floating above us. When the gull catches an upward draft and rides it away, I know I have to do the same. The three of us leave the cafe just as a hottie making it known he is from the hood slowly drives by us in his shiny red car. Gangster sound is thumping. Erica attempts to shimmy her exceptionally flat butt; she rises from her awkward position with her pointer fingers poking the air in front of her, laughter and dribbles of spit come out of her mouth. She looks at me with a goofy grin and declares, “Whoops! Aww heck, I think I just peed again.” Involuntarily I give eye-roll, act half-way charmed, and warn her, “I believe you need a new bladder, ‘cause the one you’ve got now leaks!” Connie swaggers to hottie’s fading bass beating all the way out of town. Once the windows in town have all stopped rattling, I suggest I go ahead and wait for them at the bookstore. I move to my own beat. Or rather, Rihanna’s in my head. Please don’t stop the music. To watch Connie and Rica walk away together is enlightening, both still laughing, leaning into one another. I realize how much they need each other. For the first time, I begin to see what a truly selfless person Erica is to take up the slack and fill the empty places her father left inside them both when he walked away for another woman.
I feel that little tingly sensation I always get before I go inside the bookstore for the first visit of summer break. The bookstore by the beach is as much of a meeting place for the locals as it is a magnet for the tourists. I’ve spent many happy hours browsing the aisles over the years. Always looking for the next dark adventure but never admitting I’m obsessed with vampires. When it comes to the genre of choice the mysteriousness of the dark prince has captured me. I think this summer I’m ready to graduate from the generic wannabe stuff. My nightmare was probably nothing. Right? I’m thinking farther back. Bram Stoker is a good place to start I guess, but I imagine going farther back in time across the ages. Where earth and dust coat the pages of some dark ancient book discovered in a mysterious cave. I imagine I have just stumbled upon a secret chamber flickering by candle light, warmed by flames from an old stone fireplace. Dark corridors. Wet air. Bats. My destiny waits. Just like in the movies. Only better because I’m the chosen one. The giant black book opened before me contains all of the secrets of every vampire ever created.
I admire the Vampyre of antiquity. No master. No rules except hide from the sunlight, † burn and flee at the sign of the cross, take what you want and sleep in dirt from your own grave. There is no reflection in the mirror, no sparkling in the sunlight and no teenage drama! I read the soft squishy stuff but as I’ve gotten older it’s becoming filler for the gap in what’s available and stories of the creature I create in my head. The long voyage across the sea in an ancient wooden ship, a crewless ominous ghost floating silent, shrouded in an unnatural fog. The vessel no longer needed, it exists only to be summoned again. Somewhere below deck a rough-hewn coffin lined with red velvet waits.
Since I do like happy shiny stuff in real life, I don’t think of myself as being emo-morbid in my fantasy life. My dark prince resides in the black night, never in the light of day. He appears in dark tailor-made clothing from centuries past. I’m dancing at a formal ball, my silver flowing gown shimmers in the light from the crystal chandeliers. Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome arrives unannounced. With just one look he gives me my first taste of ecstasy, or at least what I think could be ecstasy. The mortal boy I’m dancing with disappears, quickly forgotten. I’m not crazy about the blood sucking part but just a drop or two will do.
Today, I’m looking for at least one good read. The streets in town are all crowded with people, usual for summer. My eyes meet those of what I imagine to be a twenty-something girl with an interesting taste in clothing. A twinge of unexplainable sadness rolls over me. Her back pressed against the red brick alley wall, cigarette in a small white hand, silver snake bracelet wrapped around her arm and wrist. Not wanting to turn to stone, I scarcely have time to check out her long black hair bejeweled with tiny silver snake heads and I wonder to myself, why? I enter the bookstore greeted by the familiar smell of fresh inky paper and old books, a perfectly timed wink from Felicity, a fat orange cat and the engaging smile of Noelle, the person belonging to the purring diva.
“Well! Hello, stranger. Is it that time of the year already?” Noelle greets me with a customary hug. She’s soft and round and smells of orange peel and rose soap.
“Hello, Noelle. Yes, it’s definitely that time of the year again! I’ll probably be in here for a while. Erica and Connie will be here soon. Erica had to go home to get something.”
“How’s your family doing?” She asks, carefully tying a tiny knot with two very short strands of red yarn in an attempt to patch up the new claw hole in her sweater vest.
“Oh they’re good, my dad is on his way to Dallas for a building project, but he will be home as soon as he can. Thanks for asking.”
“Wow! A project in Dallas, aye, that’s a long ways away. Well, I’m glad you’re here, make yourself at home.” Noelle asks me the same question she always does. She knows me well.
“Elle, would you like me to order you a chai latte or hot chocolate from Rusty’s in a bit? I think it’s time for me to stop for a minute and take a mocha break myself.” We simultaneously look straight at Felicity. Her eyes closed tight; bottom lip quivers in a hunting dream, she couldn’t care less that we talk about her.
“I don’t know. Probably not, I just had lunch with Connie and Erica at the cafe.”
“Well, take your time sweetie and welcome home.” I see orange and light yellow cat hair on her bum when she turns to walk away. My mind preoccupied with the question of what new books she got this summer.
“Thanks anyway!” I say and grab a handful of chocolate covered peanuts from a big green glass bowl on the counter.
Warm cinnamon candles flicker in burgundy glass jars behind the counter up high on a shelf. Noelle creates something magical in this place. I love it here, I always have. After about twenty minutes of perusing the shelves with no luck, I decide to find something for Benny, since I promised to get him a surprise today. The section of children’s books is through a small doorway into the back of the building. Originally this store was a Victorian Mansion built by a prominent doctor for his family. There is mystery in the faded blue walls, creaking pine floors, and the ornately carved wooden handrail that curves grandly up the stairway toward the high ceiling. I kind of believe the rumors that it’s haunted. Some people claim they’ve heard voices, like a man reading in low muffled tones. Moby-Dick is the agreed upon book in question. I pass through the small door frame the same way I have at least a hundred times or more, but this time I come face to face with a striking young man. He stuns me with such a penetrating stare and I gasp. At first sight, he is handsome. I’m filled with an instant desire to know the mystery behind those smoky dark eyes of his. Classic Italian features. For a moment he gazes intently into my eyes and suddenly—shyly—he moves back a step and looks down away from me.
“Excuse me. I’m lost.” He says in a hesitant way. Like maybe he was caught off-guard by me too.
Why does it feel like the heat is on? Was his plea for help completely lost on me? Seriously? What just happened? I feel an uncomfortable warmth in my face now flushed red from fascination and embarrassment. Radical change in my thought pattern. This is where my reproductive health teacher would probably say, “Slow down Elle! Let’s stop and think about these dangerous trigger emotions and the chemical reaction you are having right now!” Ugh! Of course, I listen in class, when I’m not daydreaming, but this would also be advice from the same teacher who points to the blackboard with her bird-finger when she’s talking about sex!
Do I dream in the waking hours? Does this guy see the-me who stands before him? Or the part of me that just fell backward off of a proverbial cliff? I close my mouth, which is now painfully dry, smile a little and move past him without a word. Hmmm? Now I have no idea what I was looking for when I came in here. Oh yeah, something for Benny. Should I stay in this room just because he is here, the guy with glistening black hair and a face sculpted by the gods? Or should I run home like a school girl? I pretend to be uninterested only to realize I’m fake reading a book about the art of making love. Sheesh! How did this get in the children’s section? Then I feel a little tingly static charge build when I see him from the corner of my eye again. Every move he makes turn the coordinates of this spot in the universe into his realm, and I am completely entranced. Then just like the girl in a horror movie whose cell phone rings with the tone—do you really want to hurt me? at the same time a three-haired troll in a hockey mask hovers overhead with a chainsaw, I hear Connie’s raspy voice in a direct violation of the air of mystery I am soaking in. “Elle, we now have dry panties!”
My first thought; how horrified and awkwardly exposed can one girl get? Besides those random times in a girl’s life when she realizes her bikini top is lodged under her girl parts. I don’t know if he looks when Connie blurts out this little bit of TMI. But I’m sure at this point; everyone is aware, we have dry panties. Okay, now I get what my dad means when he says, “We have just entered The Twilight Zone.” And just when I think it can’t get any worse, I overhear my black haired demigod ask Noelle if she has any books on grieving. He suddenly becomes mortal—just like me. Right now I need to get off of this roller coaster. If a baby giraffe can scurry, then that’s just what I do. Once out of the door to the “real world” I take a deep breath. Maybe I can go home, lick my wounds and heal rather quickly; one thing about tourists—you most likely will never see them again. So here I am. Dazed and confused. When I think it’s all over, I hear his voice; it’s deep and smoky and hypnotic like the color of his eyes when he looked right through me.
“Hey! Indigo girl.”
It’s weird because even though I’ve never been called that before, I turn to face him instinctively. He holds out an open hand and offers me a baby-blue fingerless glove—the mate to the one in the pocket of my blue terry Juicy Couture hoodie, loosely tied around my straight boyish waist. I move from the hip confidently toward him but my words have to scratch their way out of my mouth.
“Oh!—um—thanks?” I say, more like a question than a real thank you.
Clumsy, I reach out to take my glove from his open palm. The beautiful stranger looks into my eyes, folding his fingers lightly around the soft blue glove. Slowly he lifts his hand closer to his face, his dark eyes never leave mine, embarrassing me all the more because I can’t look away from him. My lips part slightly and remain open. I stare, while he takes in the essence of my energy and sweet perfume—Daisy Eau So Fresh, to be exact. He laughs jokingly, then hands me the glove as if I were a woman-child, a flower growing in fields of danger and desire with a grown man for the first time.
“Sorry.” He mocks with a smile, “But I couldn’t help myself. You just look like one of those vampire girls, and I took a chance. I’m not a very good jokester I’m afraid.” A gasoline vapor and the hot smell of black asphalt heated in the noonday sun now permeate the air.
“I apologize, may we start over? I’m Dowr Montclair. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
A small white butterfly flutters over the concrete planter in a row of yellow daisies and dark-orange wildflowers in front of the cafe across the street. The brass-bell rings on the door of the little gift shop; two hobbit-like elderly women enter the store guiding each other as if one is more agile than the other. Cars pass us; pedestrians walk by. Time stands still. In what seems to be an attempt on his part not to let our meeting end without a connection, he reservedly asks, “Do you live here in town or are you visiting like me?” My answer surprises me because I no longer feel inhibited at all. My hand is the first to reach out.
“Hi! I’m Elle. We have a summer house here, but we live in the city.” His smile allures. He slightly nods his head as if he is in agreement with my answer. Then he backs away from me slightly.
“Ah! I see. You live here, that’s great.” His straight white teeth slowly slide across the corner of his bottom lip.
“Well, maybe I’ll see you again Elle. I’m staying with my aunt, not far from here.”
“Oh? Are you here on vacation?” I ask.
“No, my dad just passed and my aunt is the only living relative I have left in California.” In my mind—he just became broken. To my surprise a warm tear wells up and rolls down my cheek.
“I’m sorry. Bless your heart.” I say. Then I feel his warm hand touching my left elbow; my arms folded lightly over my heart. I feel full of empathy for him right now. His voice is easy and steadying.
“No, it’s okay. I’m doing okay.” He tries to fix me—I want to fix him. His eyes redden a bit but he doesn’t let himself cry. I feel our conversation has become fragile, but still, he continues.
“My aunt suggested I come here to find a book about grieving to help me work through my feelings, but I think the only thing that can help is time and I don’t have any control over that.” In my head, I hear an inner voice and I know—it will take more than time. Dowr Montclair changes the subject. He looks at me with an agreeable inquisitive smile.
“Bless your heart?”
“Oh, that. My dad is from Texas.”
I see Erica’s fluffy strawberry and sunshine hair over Dowr’s shoulder as she peeks her head out from behind the door of the bookstore. She’s looking for me. I motion to her with one finger—just a minute more. The mood lightens a bit and in a joking manner, Dowr Montclair says, “Hey, I’m keeping you. I’ll let you get back to, well, you know, dry undies.” I let my head gently tilt toward my right shoulder, and half-smile.
“Just so you know, Dowr Montclair, at some point you are going to have to explain your profiler comment about me, a girl you hardly know.” It’s a dry tone, but we both know I’m not insulted.
“And what the heck does a vampire girl look like?” I ask. “And why do you think I’m even slightly interested in that genre?” He points at the blue ink doodle on my wrist, the one I scribbled on myself during my fidgety alone time with Connie. What do you know? Fangs. We both laugh, and I obligingly walk past him on my way back into the bookstore. His smile speaks for him, so he doesn’t have to say what we both know. I took the bait, even though I may never see him again. He can live with it, but it will bother me later. All I know is, I wish we had more time, and I wonder—will I ever see him again?
It’s just the first night my dad is gone to Texas but I already feel different, maybe even a little bit free. At home, we eat Chinese carryout for dinner sitting outside on the veranda. White beeswax candles burn in clear glass jars and twinkle in the dark. Later, after Benny takes his bubble-bath, my mom wraps his little half-naked body in a plump white down comforter and props him up in the middle of our parents’ bed. He watches his new favorite movie for the umpteenth time. When I hear a song my mother loves, repeat for the third time from her studio upstairs, I decide to take up the slack and fill the empty place my father left inside her when he went to Texas. I walk into the room singing with her and Adele. Whenever I’m alone, with you, you make me feel like I am home again!
I HOPE YOU ENJOYED THIS SAMPLE OF (OUR SUMMER DIVINE) by RUTH YOUNG
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