Between the land and the.., p.1
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       Between The Land And The Sea, p.1
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           Derrolyn Anderson
Between The Land And The Sea


  Between The Land And The Sea

  ~

  Derrolyn Anderson

  ~

  Copyright © 2011 by Derrolyn Anderson

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions of it.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictionally. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  ~

  ~

  PROLOGUE

  ~

  The surfer sat upright on his board, blue eyes intensely focused as he scanned the action at the breakers. Rising and falling with the ocean swells, he was poised to spring into action when the moment came, completely oblivious to the drama being played out below him.

  Driven by mounting hunger, the shark needed to feed, and it prowled the coastline on a lethal mission. Fathomless black eyes scanned the water for prey, and its muscular tail lashed back and forth rhythmically. Once it had made its choice the outcome was a foregone conclusion; the animal was an efficient eating machine, emotionless and methodical.

  Certain death swimming.

  She followed along behind it, gliding with effortless grace. The hungry predator didn’t realize that it was being stalked, shadowed by a creature far more ancient and powerful than itself. She wasn’t going to allow it to hunt in her territory. Its intended victims were her charges, and she felt a kinship to them. Watching and waiting, she trailed at a distance, a protective force of nature.

  The big fish slowed and began to circle, and she knew from experience that it had selected a target. Looking up, she could see a surfboard floating on the surface, flanked by the legs of a wave rider. The hungry predator began its final rush towards what it thought was a sea lion. Eyes rolled back for protection, it became a deadly missile, a terrible surge of gray slicing though the water like a knife. Massive jaws opened to reveal row upon row of serrated teeth, ready to bite down at exactly the right moment.

  With a few powerful thrusts of her tail she flew through the water with tremendous speed, intercepting the shark at the last possible moment. She drove into its gills with her shoulder, knocking it off course and stunning it temporarily. Startled, it regained its bearings and righted itself, unaccustomed to being thwarted. Suddenly terrified of the interloper, the shark quickly retreated.

  Pleased with herself, she surfaced to get a better look.

  The surfer had glanced down just in time to see the huge jaws closing in on him. He knew what was coming and braced himself, resigned to his fate. To his amazement he was spared. One moment he was awaiting death, and a split second later he was looking into the most beautiful face he had ever seen; a girl with eyes the color of the sea.

  Eyes that locked onto his and then disappeared under the water in a flash.

  ~

  CHAPTER ONE

  DESTINY

  ~

  My father always used to say that there were times in life when your personal happiness was of little consequence, and you needed to make a sacrifice for the greater good. I’d never really given that sentiment much thought before, but I suppose that this would qualify as one of those times.

  Dad was leaving to work on an important project overseas, stubbornly refusing to take me along despite my most heartfelt pleading. I was to live at my aunt’s for almost an entire year, and I wasn’t very happy about it. I’d always traveled alongside my father, and I was having a hard time understanding why he was suddenly being so obstinate. He refused to budge, making it clear that no amount of wheedling, whining or outright nagging would sway him.

  It wasn’t that I had anything against visiting my aunt and cousin–too much time had passed since we’d last seen them. I had vague memories of idyllic times spent in the small beach town of Aptos, random impressions of the sun illuminating waves, faded snapshot images of building and demolishing sandcastles with my cousin. A trip down the coast was long overdue, but did it have to last a whole year? I didn’t want to live in Aptos and I really didn’t want to attend the local high school.

  To be honest, what bothered me the most was the prospect of the separation–I was to be cut adrift and live apart from my father for the first time in my entire life. His work was taking him to a remote and rugged part of the world, safe enough for him, but apparently not for me. He used to joke that we were a family of two rolling stones, moss-free and happy, but now I found myself being banished to Aptos while he rolled away without me. In my opinion, it was totally and utterly unfair.

  “Marina, I’d bring you along if I could,” he had calmly explained, “but Afghanistan is far too dangerous right now and no place for a girl your age. I won’t get any work done if I’m constantly worrying about you. Besides,” he looked at me with pleading eyes, hopeful that I’d capitulate, “you should be in high school with other kids. You need to be around people your own age.”

  “Nonsense,” I protested, arguing my case to the bitter end. “You know I’m perfectly capable of looking out for myself. And I prefer to attend on-line school. Don’t you want me to have more time to work on my art?” I met his gaze levelly. That usually did it; Dad was proud of my skill at painting.

  “Aunt Abigail has enrolled you at Aptos High. I fly out this evening. Decision made.” When I saw the stubborn set to his jaw I knew the verdict was in. My fate was sealed; court was adjourned, and I had been sentenced to a year.

  I glumly packed my bags and sulked over to Aunt Evie’s, seeking a sympathetic ear. Our apartments share the top floor of our San Francisco high-rise, and her place has always served as my refuge and retreat. She’s not technically related to us, but Evie likes it when I call her Aunt, and I adore her. She’s the closest thing to a mom or grandmother that I’ve ever known.

  Aunt Evie had lived right across the hallway from us for as long as I could remember, sharing her vast apartment with Pierre and Fifi, a pair of toy poodles. Some of the happiest hours of my childhood were whiled away poking around in her luxurious rooms.

  When we weren’t traveling for my father’s research, we lived in San Francisco where he lectured at the university, but he only suffered it in order to support his fieldwork. Dad has always been happiest outdoors in the fresh air, up to his elbows in dirt, totally engrossed in his experiments. Consequently, I grew up living out of suitcases all over the world, completely comfortable with a rootless nomadic existence. As long as we were together, home was anywhere we happened to be, and we even nicknamed our city apartment “base camp.”

  That would make Aunt Evie camp director, staff, and head counselor all rolled into one. Evie has always served as a touchstone, my constant reassuring reference point. Each time Dad and I returned from a stay abroad she’d be waiting with open arms, eager to shower me with love and attention. I knew I’d miss her, and a fresh wave of self-pity engulfed me as I reached her door. Before I even knocked it swung open wide as if she could see straight through it. She regarded me astutely for a split second.

  “Marina! Darling!” she cried enthusiastically, embracing me and air-kissing each cheek. “You look absolutely lovely this morning! You must be so excited! You simply have to come to the city for a visit when I return from Cannes. I’ll want to hear everything about your new school.”

  Aunt Evie was a celebrated fashion model in her younger years and remained a style icon, traveling the globe in a relentless pursuit of luxury and pleasure. Whip thin, tall and stylish, she was always dressed to kill, her platinum blonde hair perfectly coiffed, her makeup and nails equally impeccable. High society types gossiped endlessly about her wardrobe, jewels and furs.

  Evie possessed the devastating com
bination of wit and beauty that made people from all walks of life shamelessly fawn all over her. When she focused her laser beam attention on you, it felt like you were the most important person in the world.

  “I wish I could go with you,” I said mournfully, watching her with one eye while I bent to greet the two little white poodles that danced in hysterical circles around my feet.

  “Nice try,” she laughed knowingly. “You’ll forget all about me when you’re around people your own age.” I cast her a sour look. Even Evie had thrown me to the wolves, agreeing with my father’s theory that I would benefit from exposure to a bunch of small-town teenagers.

  “Not a chance,” I griped, mimicking her. “I absolutely dread being abandoned there.”

  “Now, now, let’s not be overly dramatic,” she said with an indulgent smile.

  I rolled my eyes at her. “Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.”

  Aunt Evie had always been larger than life, attacking each day with theatrical flair. If you looked up “drama queen” in the dictionary you’d find a full page picture of her.

  “Sweetheart, high school will give you precisely the sort of real world experience you’ll need for your brilliant future. Just be sure to keep me up on all of your romantic intrigues.” Her ice blue eyes flashed with mischief.

  I snorted, startling the tiny dogs. “It’s high school, Aunt Evie, not one of your foreign films.”

  She shook her head in disagreement. “A beautiful sixteen year old should not be holed up in an apartment all alone! You need to meet new people–make some friends! You have no idea what destiny has in store for you!” Her face softened into a dreamy smile. “You’ve been hidden away with your nose in a book for far too long.” She closed her eyes and sighed. “You should be going to dances and parties and having some fun! Those Aptos boys won’t even realize what hit them. You’re going to have such admirers!”

  I sighed with frustration. Evie led the glamorous life of a jet setter, flitting from one social event to another, and couldn’t begin to imagine how anyone might prefer a quieter existence. Widowed years ago and never remarried, she kept busy, filling her days with philanthropy, travel and shopping, though not necessarily in that order. Her late husband Harold had indulged her every whim and bequeathed her a vast fortune upon his passing, resting secure in the knowledge that his Evelyn would be provided for–even as she spent money with reckless abandon.

  So Aunt Evie had taken me under her wing, delighting in exposing me to a rarefied world of wealth and privilege. Her lifestyle was the polar opposite of the one I lived with my father, and I got the distinct impression that she was doing her level best to prepare me for an existence very similar to hers.

  Evie lived for designer clothes and fine dining, while Dad and I were more comfortable eating fast food in our worn blue jeans. Like us, she traveled extensively, but to resort areas with five star hotels, while we generally took spare quarters in remote impoverished villages. Going between my father and Evie, I felt like I already had plenty of real world experience.

  She left the room abruptly, returning with several giant shopping bags and a sly smile.

  “I’ve got a few new things!” she announced.

  I knew what that meant. Evie’s singular obsession in life has always been fashion, and she’s made outfitting me in beautiful clothing one of her top priorities. I liked playing dress-up with all of the gorgeous things she always showered on me, but to Evie, being in style was deadly serious business. She considered shopping a blood sport, and was constantly on the prowl, mercilessly hunting down the perfect ensemble.

  She handed me the bags. “Voilà!”

  I managed to muster an “Oh, Evie, you shouldn’t have …”

  “Indulge me!’” she exclaimed, and I did. Diving into them, to her obvious delight, I pulled out some of the most delicate, filmy and romantic sundresses imaginable.

  “Ooh …” I sighed, flipping through the pile, “These are absolutely beautiful!”

  “Marina,” she sighed dreamily as I held up a particularly lovely turquoise frock, “with your eyes and hair, you’ll be an absolute vision in that.”

  I didn’t argue. With her exquisite taste and expert eye, Evie never failed to choose clothes that flattered my figure and enhanced my coloring.

  There was a loud rap on the door that sent the dogs into a barking frenzy.

  “Dad must be ready,” I sighed.

  Evie had insisted that we take a car out of her collection for our drive down to Aptos. Looking out the window on the beautiful summer day, she decided that it absolutely must be a convertible.

  Evie flung open the door to receive my father while I busied myself packing away her latest shopping excesses. The little dogs lunged at him, snapping and snarling in a comic attempt at viciousness. They seemed to know he was there to take me from them.

  Dad looked down with an amused face. “Call off the hounds,” he smiled at Evie, greeting her with a brusque embrace. He sighed with resignation when he saw all the shopping bags I was gathering. My father has always been mystified by the sheer quantity of expensive clothing that Evie showered on me; he simply could not comprehend the point in all the artifice of fashion. Despite his disapproval, he never complained about it too much, because Evie served a purpose. I’m sure he was relieved to abdicate the responsibility of dressing a daughter.

  “Martin,” Evie turned to him, saying fervently, “you must be careful out there in that godforsaken place. You’ll be in our hearts until your safe return.” She took him by both hands and stared at him intensely with her crystal gaze. “I know you’ll do your very best for those poor people.”

  “Thank you, Evie,” he said solemnly.

  She gathered herself with some effort. “I’ve had Boris bring the Phantom around and load Marina’s luggage. Now … scoot before you make me cry and ruin my face!”

  “Goodbye, Evie,” said Dad.

  “Thank you for all the beautiful things.” I hugged her close, enveloped in a comforting cloud of her perfume. “I’ll call to let you know how everything fits. Maybe my cousin will drive me up for a visit …”

  Dad ushered me out the door and into the elevator down to the garage. A gleaming silver convertible pulled up, with a giant of a man emerging from behind the wheel.

  “Morning, Boris,” said my father with a friendly nod.

  Boris nodded a greeting in return and winked at me. He was an enormous, hugely tall and heavily muscled colossus. His broad shoulders, thick neck and bald head gave him a frightening appearance, but I knew that looks could be deceiving. Boris was a gentle giant, the ever-present guardian of our building, possessed of an eagle eye that continually scanned for unwelcome intruders.

  “Vatch your back, sir,” he said in his thick Russian accent as he held the door open for my dad. “Is wery difficult place.”

  “Thanks, Boris, I will,” Dad replied with confidence, heaving a couple of shopping bags into the back seat before climbing in.

  Boris opened the passenger door for me. “Cheers up, kiddo,” he said, patting my head with a huge meaty hand. “Aptos is not so far avay.”

  I slid into the seat and gestured for him to come closer, reaching out to rub his bald head for good luck like I used to when I was little. His face split into a grin and his booming laugh echoed in my ears as we pulled away.

  We cruised down a ribbon of road that wound along the California coast, sailing through the warm summer air. The wind whipped my ponytail around, lashing my cheeks with its long brown strands as I looked out across the endless sea. The water sparkled with infinite shades of blue and green; it grew darker right at the horizon line and was sliced in two by the sun’s shimmering reflection. It would make a nice painting, I thought. Maybe I would start a new one tonight.

  “I bet you’re gonna enjoy high school.” My father raised his voice over the wind, glancing over at me as he tried to gauge my mood.

  I shrugged and gazed back out at the ocean. An
y other day it would have been a pleasant journey, but I was feeling nervous and unsettled, totally incapable of working up any false enthusiasm.

  “Your Aunt Abigail is really looking forward to having you,” he continued on louder, still trying to sell me on the move and, no doubt, assuage his guilty conscience. “You and Cruz will get to spend your senior year together.”

  We drove south, hugging the shoreline, soaking up the afternoon sun and expansive ocean views. I looked at the tiny flying lady ornament on the car’s hood, the land and sea whizzing past her outstretched arms and billowing gown. She looked happy and free–the exact opposite of how I felt. We came to a section of highway with a few vans and beat-up old trucks lining the side of the road. Dad pulled over and parked.

  “Marina, look at the surfers,” he said, leaning across me to get a better view of the water.

  I looked down to see a smattering of tiny figures on the ocean, lying on surfboards. Several of them suddenly materialized upright and skimmed across the waves, leaving plumes of white water behind them, flying like the lady sailing on the highway.

  Dad slumped back in his seat with a sigh. “Honey, you know I’ll miss you, but you should spend some time at a real school. I’m afraid I’ve been selfish, keeping you with me all these years. I just want to give you a chance to live a normal life for a while.”

  “I like my life. I don’t want it to change,” I said.

  “Change is not always a bad thing,” he smiled encouragingly. “This is your last chance to go to high school before you start college. You know, football games … prom?”

  “Not interested in the least,” I replied with a grimace.

  “You never know until you try,” he said cheerily.

  I sighed and cast him an annoyed glance. I knew he worried about me. I’d always had a solitary nature, but my father perceived me as being isolated. I could happily go an entire day without speaking a word to anyone, and I spent all my time with adults. I truly considered Evie my best friend and didn’t see anything at all wrong with it. The situation bothered Dad, but I’d always been able to talk him out of sending me to boarding school. He’d often argued that I needed to spend time with younger people, but he could never win me over in a debate on the merits.

  Reason failed this time so he went to work on my conscience.

  He looked across at me, his eyes solemn. “Honey, I can make a big difference for some people that really need the help.”

  Dad had an annoying way of putting things into perspective. Though his work didn’t always attract the same sort of attention more glamorous scientific research did, I knew how vitally important it was. An expert in the field of agronomy, my father had pioneered many new agricultural techniques, helping farmers improve their crops and increase production. It sounded like a small thing, really, but countless lives had been saved from poverty and starvation as a direct result of his research.

  And now he was heading to a remote and primitive country, risking his life in yet another sincere effort to help even more people. A flood of shame and guilt washed over me.

  “I’ll be fine,” I said, managing a convincing smile. “It’s just that I’ll miss you.”

  We sat there for a few minutes, watching the surfers ride the waves. I noticed a small group of girls gathered by the parked cars, and I studied them. Boldly wearing miniscule bikinis and flipping their sun-streaked hair in the warm breeze, they laughed as though they hadn’t a care in the world. They were all so tanned and healthy I felt like I was looking at a summery perfume ad in one of Evie’s fashion magazines.

  When their faces all turned to us I realized that Evie’s shining silver Rolls Royce was starting to attract attention. They elbowed each other and pointed as I slumped down in my seat, hiding behind my sunglasses. Evie loved causing a stir with all of her fine things, but their open stares made me uncomfortable.

  “Let’s go now, Dad,” I said.

  We followed the coastal highway until we reached the Aptos exit. As we neared the shoreline I caught a whiff of spicy eucalyptus leaves mingled with briny sea air. The scent was at once exotic and familiar, and I felt a small ache of fresh sorrow mingled with nostalgia.

  “Here we are,” announced Dad. “Boy, has this town grown.” We slowly cruised through a quaint seaside village with a smattering of charming little shops. The main street led to a long sandy beach with a fishing pier connecting to an old wrecked ship that sat on the ocean floor. There was a gas station, a burger joint, and a little convenience store that sold ice and flip-flops to tourists.

  I vaguely remembered the area, but because of our traveling we hadn’t made the drive down here in years. Dad seemed to want to avoid this place, saying he wasn’t a person who liked the seaside. As a result, I’d spent most of my life on rustic landlocked farms or in cosmopolitan San Francisco, and hadn’t seen my aunt and cousin since they’d been up to the city for a brief visit several years earlier.

  We turned down a narrow lane that led to a row of small houses on a bluff overlooking the beach. My aunt had lived here for as far back as I could remember, transforming a ramshackle vacation cottage into a cozy home surrounded by a lush garden. Over time, all the little bungalows that used to sit empty in winter had been snapped up and remodeled. To her surprise, Aunt Abigail found that she lived in a very desirable area. All around the neighborhood apartment buildings and condos vied for the ocean views, but her little street stood out like an oasis of charm and tranquility amongst them. I started to relax, thinking that maybe living here wouldn’t be so bad after all.

  We pulled up to my aunt’s house and parked behind an ancient yellow Volvo. She was waiting out front, perched on a small bench on her porch. The front of the house was festooned with wind chimes, hanging planters and hummingbird feeders. She was waving and smiling brightly. I felt a peaceful wave of calm pass over me.

  “Martin! Marina! Welcome!” she cried, and reached out to embrace us one after the other. She was tall and tanned, with a slim build like my father, and her long blonde hair gleamed in the bright sunshine. She moved with a graceful flowing gait due to her years as a yoga instructor. Her friendly blue eyes had the wrinkles of someone who smiled a lot and spent a considerable amount of time outdoors. She was beautiful.

  “Thank you for letting me stay with you, Aunt Abigail,” I said.

  “Oh, Marina, it’s my pleasure. Just look at how grown up you are! It’s been much too long since you were last here! My goodness, you’re so much like–” she paused and flashed a glance at Dad, making a sour face. “He’s the only one that calls me Abigail. Please always call me Abby.”

  I looked up to see my cousin Cruz standing awkwardly in the doorway. He had grown at least a foot since I’d last seen him. His hair was styled in a shaggy fringe that swept over his eyes, which were rimmed with smudged black eyeliner. He had an assortment of silver metal piercings in his ears and eyebrows and was dressed in interesting clothes, all varying shades of black. In contrast to his mother, he had the pallor of someone who rarely saw the sun, let alone went outside.

  When our eyes met I could see that despite his new look he was still the same sweet, shy Cruz I remembered. I had seen much more extreme punks in San Francisco. I rushed over to give him a big hug.

  “M-Marina,” he stammered, “you grew up!” We both started laughing and any tension in the atmosphere dissolved immediately.

  “Martin, I hope you’ll stay for dinner,” Abby chimed in, beaming with happiness.

  My father explained that he had to leave right away in order to make his flight, but promised to take us all out to the best restaurant in town when he got back. So, with a flurry of apologies and multiple trips unloading suitcases and boxes, we gathered in front of the house to say our final goodbyes.

  Dad clamped me in a tight embrace and I fought to hold back tears as I hugged him back. He stepped over to Abby and pressed an envelope into her hands.

  “That’s not necess–” Abby protested.

 
“I insist,” Dad said firmly. He gave me a final hug and a kiss on both cheeks. We stood and watched as he backed the Rolls out and drove away.

  There was a sudden chill in the air and I looked up to see a massive wall of fog creeping towards the sunny little house. It looked like a fluffy block of gray cotton about four stories tall, advancing in little wisps and puffs that swirled all around us like smoke.

  “I hope you don’t mind fog,” sighed Abby. “Aptos is one of the foggiest spots on the coast.”

  “I think you’re forgetting where I just came from,” I teased her with a sideways glance.

  Now the dense gray cloud fully encased us and the temperature dipped noticeably. The air was heavy with moisture and smelled of saltwater and seaweed.

  “Brrr! Let’s go in and get you settled,” Abby said, rubbing her hands up and down her bare arms.

  I was shown to a tiny room with a window looking out onto a jewel-box of a garden. The walls were painted a soothing aqua, a color that Evie favored me in, and I decided to take it as a good omen. A single bed with a white down comforter dominated the room, and a small desk with a bright blue wooden chair anchored the corner. A fat orange tabby cat slept curled into a ball in the center of the bed, making a crater in the puffy blanket.

  There was no closet, but a metal clothes rack on wheels stood against one wall, filled with empty hangers. There was a full-length mirror mounted opposite the window that reflected the lush plantings outside. My pile of suitcases made the room look even smaller than it already was.

  “Charlie!” Abby screeched when she noticed the cat. “I’m sorry, Marina, I’ve been trying to keep him out of here, but he seems to think we fixed up the room just for him.” Charlie looked up nonchalantly and croaked out a rusty meow.

  “I love cats!” I exclaimed.

  Because of our traveling I had never been allowed a pet of my own. Evie said that her dogs might as well be mine since I was the only other person they liked, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t the same thing. “He’s welcome to sleep in here anytime he wants,” I said, scratching him under his chin. He purred like a jet engine and started to drool a little bit.

  “I hope you’ll be comfortable here,” Abby said with an anxious look. “I know you’re probably used to a little more space.”

  “It’s perfect,” I said, and I really meant it. The bedroom was small, but it had a cozy feeling. It was odd, but I had the strangest sensation the room already knew me.

  “OK, there are clean towels in the hall closet and I’ll have dinner ready in about half an hour.” Abby beamed and turned to go. “I’ll leave you to get settled in.” She paused in the doorway, her eyes shimmering with emotion. “It’s really good to have you back.” She closed the door softly.

  I began to unpack, feeling more at ease as I settled in. I set my laptop on the desk and plugged it in. Unpacking a box of books and magazines, I made a stack I could reach from my bed. I assembled a portable easel and arranged it in the corner with my art supplies under it, satisfied it would be a good spot to work. Drawing, painting and reading have always been my favorite pursuits–solitary, portable, and perfectly suited to an independent nature and traveler’s lifestyle.

  I used my suitcases as drawers, since Evie had insisted that I take her vintage Louis Vuitton set and they actually looked quite handsome arranged under the metal rack. I stashed my sandals, flats, and an army of boots and pumps under the bed. My shoes alone took up half the room. I hung up all the dresses and jackets I could fit on the rack and left the rest folded in the cases. Charlie the cat yawned and reached out a lazy paw to bat at a stack of purses.

  There was a soft knock on the door.

  “Um, it’s like, dinnertime, Marina.” Cruz’s voice was much deeper than I remembered.

  “I’ll be right out,” I called, and hastily threw a cardigan over the summery tank I had slipped on in the morning. San Francisco seemed like a million miles away.

  “I hope you’re okay with vegetarian,” Abby smiled as she pulled out a chair. Even with the fog outside, the yellow kitchen was bright and cheery. The tidy blue tile counter hosted several baskets filled with fresh fruit and summer squash. There was a colorful bouquet of flowers on the table.

  “Mom’s gone all vegan on me,” complained Cruz with a roll of his warm brown eyes. “We even had to have tofu turkey last Thanksgiving.”

  “It’s not all that bad!” Abby protested. She turned towards me. “Vegan food is good for your health, and Cruz likes the soy milk …”

  “Mom, I practically live on cereal,” Cruz groaned sarcastically.

  “Well,” I said, taking my seat at the table, “last Thanksgiving we were in southern India and I didn’t eat a bite of meat for five whole months. I didn’t miss it at all.”

  Abby smiled with satisfaction and began to fill our plates with slices of pale fried tofu and bland brown rice with lentils mixed in. It didn’t look at all like the highly seasoned and fragrant dishes that our housekeeper in Kerala had prepared for us. I looked up and into Cruz’s now triumphant eyes. He smirked at me.

  “Dig in guys,” chirped Abby.

  I began to see what Cruz was complaining about as I picked at the tasteless mush. I had nothing against tofu–far from it. Dad and I subsisted almost entirely on take-out in the city and ate foods from all over the world. I loved the pillows of silky tofu in Japanese miso soup, and the spicy fried tofu from our favorite Chinese place. Abby’s tofu was the kind of tofu that gave tofu a bad name. She passed me a bowl filled with beautiful fresh greens and I heaped my plate with them.

  Abby beamed approvingly. “I see you’re a salad eater. You’re gonna love the weekly farmer’s market. I’ll take you this Sunday.” She lit up as she described how small farmers from the area set up stands with all kinds of organic foods and produce. I began to have some hope that I might not starve.

  After we ate, Cruz and I cleared the table and Abby started to wash the dishes.

  “Let me do that,” I said, remembering my dad’s admonishments to help around the house.

  “Not tonight, honey,” said Abby. “Cruz is going to take you for a walk and show you what’s new in town.”

  Cruz and I ventured out onto the foggy street. It was a mid-August evening and still light out, but the gray mist made it seem darker and later than it really was.

  “Can we go to the secret stairs?” I asked, suddenly remembering. When we were children, the stairs leading down to the beach had always seemed like a magical spot. Every weekend the tourists drove in, parked in a lot up on the bluff and schlepped their coolers and umbrellas down a cement path to the beach.

  From our little neighborhood there was an older, better way down.

  As we walked, Cruz told me all about the high school and how miserable he was there. He described the cliques of surfers and stoners, rich kids and football players. Sensitive and artistic, Cruz felt like a misfit, complaining that he didn’t belong there. I could relate. He told me about his best friend Megan, and how they liked to hang out at the local coffee shop and surf the internet for new music.

  “I have to admit, I’m kind of nervous about going,” I confessed. “I’ve always been sort of a loner.”

  “Don’t worry,” Cruz assured me, “I’ll be there to hang out with and show you around. There’s really not much to see.”

  I told Cruz that I’d never attended a “real” school and didn’t think now was a good time to start. He commiserated with me when I complained that I’d never really meshed with kids my own age.

  He frowned. “Nobody I know really gets me,” he said grimly.

  “Well, I don’t even know anybody … so there,” I said, making him laugh.

  As we talked I learned more about Cruz. Like me, he spent much of his time drawing. He told me he designed clothes and liked to sew. He was overjoyed that I could discuss the nuances of fashion with him in detail.

  “I didn’t know you were into clothes!” he exclaimed.

  “I d
idn’t know you were, either,” I said.

  We had an easy camaraderie, discovering that we truly had a lot in common. I found our similarities comforting, evidence of a connection I didn’t realize I was missing. Both of us had been brought up in a family of two, as we’d each lost a parent when we were just infants–a big part of ourselves that we had no memory of. Cruz’s father was killed in an auto accident before he was born, and my mother had died just after delivering me.

  Her name was Adria, and that’s about all I knew about her. She was gone, her ashes scattered at sea, all traces of her erased from existence. I didn’t have so much as a picture, and when I pressed my father he finally admitted that we looked very much alike. He never spoke of her, and whenever questioned he dodged the subject, bribing me with a treat or a trip somewhere special. He became melancholy if I pressed the point, and the pain evident on his face and in his voice made me uneasy. It’s always been a little scary for me to see my father unhappy, so I simply gave up asking.

  Whenever I started to dwell on thoughts of my mother I swear I could hear Evie’s eternally upbeat voice in my mind, urging me to put the past away and focus on the future with all of its unlimited possibilities. She’d say, “Yesterday is history, but tomorrow is a mystery!” her blue eyes flashing with spirit. I missed her already.

  “I noticed you have a ton of cool clothes,” Cruz said, bringing me back to reality.

  “My Aunt Evie is a fashionista,” I explained. “She likes to shop for me.”

  “You’re so lucky!” he moaned. “I wish I lived in the city.”

  Cruz told me that he hoped to be a fashion designer someday. He was working part time at a local silkscreen shop printing souvenir shirts, saving his money and dreaming of attending design school in San Francisco. We chatted about our favorite labels and I told him what shopping with Evie was like.

  “She has a sixth sense about when new inventory arrives.” I smiled, imagining her pouncing on the hottest new designer. “Sometimes she’ll call ahead and have a personal shopper pull racks from the latest shipments in our sizes.”

  “Wow,” he said solemnly. “Must be nice.”

  “It’s much nicer in the private dressing rooms,” I laughed. “Otherwise the salespeople all descend upon us like a swarm of locusts.”

  “I like the way you talk,” Cruz sighed, “like you’re older, and not from around here. I can’t wait to get out of this town. There’s nothing to do around here but surf,” he complained.

  I walked right past the entry to the stairway.

  “Marina!” Cruz was standing next to a huge climbing rose with his arms crossed.

  He held back the overgrown vines while I ducked under the arbor. There was a narrow uneven brick path that wound through dense foliage, shaded with pine trees and slippery with fallen needles. We descended a flight of steep wooden stairs that led to a small landing with a bench. From this perch in the trees we could look down to the beach. We picked our way down the remaining stairs, clinging to the rickety handrail until we made it onto the sand.

  To our right was a vast expanse of shoreline that ended in a rocky point jutting out into the sea. On our left was the famous cement ship, an old war relic that had been scuttled, pressed into service as a spot to enjoy the panoramic bay views. The ship was an oddity, made out of concrete during a wartime steel shortage almost a hundred years ago.

  The wooden pier that led out to the ship was peppered with people fishing the incoming tide, and the air was filled with the brackish smell of saltwater and seaweed. To the left of the pier was more beach, and Cruz pointed out the prime surfing territory that was usually crowded with local surfers. We walked along the path that led up the hill into town.

  Most of the businesses in Aptos existed to cater to the weekend and summer tourist trade. There were little gift shops and restaurants lining the street, and almost every storefront had souvenir tee shirts hanging in the windows. We stopped to look in a few places, and Cruz pointed out the restaurants he liked.

  “Eat out a lot?” I teased him.

  “Every chance I get,” he answered, tongue in cheek.

  We ambled on, and he told me more about his job as we rounded a corner. On the sidewalk ahead of us a group of teens were hanging out in a cloud of clove-scented cigarette smoke. They had staked out a pair of benches and were lounging insolently, blocking the walkway with an air of defiance.

  “Let’s get moving,” Cruz muttered under his breath, his body tense. “Just don’t look at them.”

  They had taken notice of us and were openly staring and talking excitedly as we neared. I heard the muttered words “Rolls Royce” and knew that at least one of the surfer girls I’d seen today was in their number. I looked up directly into faces both curious and guarded. The boys were posing with their chests thrust out, trying to seem tough. The girls looked openly hostile. I followed Cruz’s lead and started to walk faster, giving the group a wide berth.

  “Hey, Cruzie boy,” a girl’s voice called called out as we passed by, “who’s the new hag?”

  I spun around, uncharacteristically confrontational. Startled, most of them looked away or down. One tall blonde met my gaze with hard eyes and a defiant jut of her chin.

  “Let’s just go, Marina,” pleaded Cruz.

  I held my tongue and turned away. We continued down the street in silence until we were on our own little lane.

  “Sorry about that,” Cruz sighed. “Those guys are total jerks.”

  “Were those the stoners or the surfers?” I asked.

  “Those were the stoned surfers,” Cruz replied. We burst into laughter and joked about them the rest of the way home.

  I fell into bed that night, drained from the events of the day. I could hear the surf pounding away on the beach like a distant war being waged between the land and the sea, and I had the strangest feeling that my life would never be the same. My father and I were no longer a pair of intrepid adventurers, charging out to save the world side by side.

  Destiny had taken us on separate paths, and it was both frightening and liberating at the same time.

  ~

  CHAPTER TWO

  EYES
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