Running Down the Road – by: Odette

It should have only taken 2 hours to get to Gainesville, but when I got out on to the open 2-lane road, I discovered the VW Bus didn’t like to go over 50mph.  I felt a little like the Pied Piper, playing my music while being the accidental leader of a sorrowful trail of cars, minus the few maniacs who sped past, risking numerous head on collisions. I simply ignored the trail and listened happily to the cassette tape of Chet Baker’s Jazz until it was eaten in a spectacular ending to “Let’s Get Lost”. But after fumbling around in a large tin can that Bob had somehow gerry-rigged to the dash, I found yet more tapes. And without looking at any labels, since it was too dark to see them anyway, I tried to first pull out the old, now broken one to make way for the next. After yanking it out there was still a bit of tape left tangled in one of the turning things. Damn it.

I thought that maybe if I pulled over at this Jiffy Mart, I could park right in front of the lit store and try to fix the tape player. There were a few trucks in the parking lot. It looked pretty tame, I felt safe. In the dim glow from the store I couldn’t see well enough to un-jam the tape player. I sat there feeling defeated. So I simply gave up and rummaged around in the ash tray to find a $20 bill, leaving me as giddy as if I had discovered gold. I pocketed the money and hopped out of the van, slamming the door behind me with such unintentional vigor, that a couple of people coming out of the store looked over in surprise.

As I walked up to the double glass doors with ads plastered all over them, I past a hunched woman, sitting on the curb. She said, “Oh, you dropped something!”

I walked back to see what she was talking about and she had her hand cupped. I reached out to take whatever it was that she was holding and as she opened her empty hand into mine she said, “Here’s your smile”.

I laughed with surprise.

“There now you see,” she said, “I gave it back to you!”

“Thank you,” I said.

She pushed some wild hair behind her ear that had a large scar on it, like an earring had been ripped all the way out at one time in her past. I was frozen, staring horrified with the thought of how that must have felt. How old was she when that happened? She said, “Can you spare some change? I’m not gonna lie, I’m a jonsing for a cigarette. I’ll tell you your fortune in return.”

“You don’t need to do that,” I managed to say, looking at her teeth that were mostly missing. She seemed young in a way, her dark hair, thick and silky like she was my age. But her skin was brown and weathered like a sack, her lips cracked and her voice raspy. “I just need a ciggy” she said and grinned at me in an alarming way, thick eyebrows raised with expectancy. She had me. I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice but to do as she asked all curled over on the curb.

“I’ll buy you a pack” I said. “What kind do you want?”

“Virginia Slims Menthol lights 100’s.”

What? I got out my phone to type that into the notes because I knew I would forget that as soon as I got up to the counter. Inside I tossed a couple of Snickers bars onto the counter and asked for her cigarettes. Then I got a good idea, “Give me two packs” I said. Then I thought that menthol sounded gross so I said, “No, give me one pack of Marlboros”. I remembered seeing ads for Marlboros in LIFE magazine as a kid, the cowboy sitting by the golden bonfire with a cigarette dangling from his lips. That would be me in a few minutes, minus the bonfire.

I handed the Virginia Slims and a Snickers bar to my friend on the curb and she said, “sit down and I’ll tell you your fortune.”

“I don’t believe in that stuff” I said, sitting down next to her anyway, knowing I was going to get my skirt dirty on the curb.

“Nobody believes in the truth,” she said, “especially when it is staring them right smack in the face.”  A little spit came out of her mouth when she said the word, “smack”. She leaned forward a little, prompting me to lean back so I wouldn’t ever have to know what her breath smelled like. She looked into me with her bright blue, piercing eyes and frightened me for a second. I looked away and opened up my own packet of cigarettes. She took out a lighter and was immediately puffing away, then she handed it to me and I tried to light mine. She looked at me in amazement as I puffed away, trying to make a few sparks, then handed her lighter back and blew the smoke out into the night so I could watch it swirl in the light of the street lamp.

“You didn’t even inhale, honey” she said.

“I didn’t really want to,” I said, watching the smoke wind magically into itself.

She smiled and shook her head. “You are like a little lamb” she said, “headed for a slaughter.”

“Is that my fortune?” I looked at her with alarm and she shook her head.

“No. I see you in blue. Blue will save you my child. Just remember, blue.”

I looked at my van. That was blue. “Save me from what?”

“I can’t tell you everything” she said, “or then I would be steeling your free will, and God won’t let me do that. But I can tell you, that you are like the moon, but the moon mustn’t stay out in the day time.”

That was enough for me. I stood up, “It was nice to meet you, thanks for the fortune” I said while brushing off my skirt.

“Remember, blue!” She said.

“Blue.” I got in my blue van which was difficult to do while holding a lit cigarette and then as I reached over to pull on my seatbelt I dropped it on my lap and screamed as it burnt a hole in my skirt. “Shit!!” I picked it up and stamped it out in the open ash tray. Blue, I thought to myself as I backed out then pulled forward on to the now barren road to Gainesville. The van was loud as ever and trees now engulfed the little road on either side. The moon shone above so brightly it drowned out all the stars.  I pulled at the coiled tape again and to my delight it finally came free, so easily I was baffled that it had ever been a problem. I popped in a random tape. When the song, “Blue” by the Jayhawks began to play I gasped with amazement at the coincidence. So I just sang with the joy of a kid on a swing with her eyes closed, or like when I dance at a club when the music fills me up and the flashing lights are blinding…or when I am on a raft in a swimming pool and I am so relaxed that I think that if I give in completely to accepting the expansive joy of the gentle motion, the water lapping my feet and my skin soaking up the warm sunlight on my bare belly, that I will surely drown.

Then as I listened to each word I belted from my throat I realized what I was saying and I suddenly wondered if this was not a huge coincidence. Perhaps this was somehow Chris sending me a message, and that perhaps I should turn around and go home. I suddenly missed Chris really, really badly and felt awful for ditching him. I started to slow down, wondering if maybe I should just make a u-turn. I could turn around right here if I wanted to. I slowed right down to just 5mph, then changed my mind. I was going dancing damn-it. But right as I pushed down on the gas pedal, a young deer sprang out in front of the van like an angel. Her eyes sparkled in the headlights and as I skidded to a halt she leapt high out of harms way into the trees. The van utterly conked out in the road. It was suddenly deafeningly silent. I tried to start it back up again and the engine turned over and over like a coughing old man. I sat there again in the quiet, with the moon flashing from above, with the trees and all her deer friends staring at me with their glassy eyes from the blackness of the woods of endless, unanswered questions.

Chris told me this would happen. “Please start” I whispered. I imagined a car zooming up behind me at the speed limit which was 65. “Please start for me, blue…will that help if I say blue? Please, please.” I turned the key, but nothing.

I really didn’t want to get out of the car, but I wanted to sit there in the middle of the road waiting to be nailed by an oncoming car, even less. So I put the van in neutral and hopped out into the dark night. I left my door open and pushed as hard as I could. I heaved with my whole body and being, and cried out like a tennis player in the Wimbledon finals. The van finally began to roll slowly. I was terrified of everything around me, of criminals coming out of the woods to murder me, and my adrenaline made me stronger than I had ever been. My sweat was wet on my forehead and the van began to roll faster and faster. Soon I was running, almost gliding and leaping down the black road pushing the van along with me. And just when it seemed like it was going to race off away into the future without me, I hopped into the drivers seat, stomped on the clutch, shoved it into 2nd gear and popped the clutch. It started with such a roar that I screamed. I pressed my foot down on the gas, hung on to the steering wheel and leaned out of the van to grab and pull my door shut. Success. I couldn’t believe I was moving along down the road again like nothing ever happened. So I got the van going up to almost 55. It rattled like cattle stomping across a metal bridge, but I didn’t care. As long as it would hold together till Gainesville it could clang about as much as it wanted to. My heart was still racing and I was still heaving for breath after that insane sprint. But I let myself take in a large breath and relax a tiny little bit and I thought to myself that I really still did want to go dancing.

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Not Running Away – by: Odette

I drove the van to where Jake and I sat a few months earlier, where we ate our fast food and talked for hours looking at the ocean. There had to be a way to enjoy things now, with all its perfection, if not for myself, then at least for the people I loved.

Perhaps I just needed some me-time. I realized with mild surprise that my face was wet with tears but I also noticed happily that I felt good at the same time, good to be away, good to be looking at the dark ocean that probably had Great Whites secretly gliding close to the shore. Good to remember there was a time not long ago that I lived on my own terms. I wanted to keep driving away from the house, but I knew that as a mother and a wife I was supposed to be good and go home and say I was sorry for storming out and that everything was going to be OK.

It was time to go back. I held tight on to the large steering wheel like a bus driver, and didn’t start the van.  Maybe I didn’t have to go back. I mean, Chris could leave for months, and so why couldn’t I even leave for an hour without someone being annoyed at my absence? Just the idea of just driving off down the road to wherever the heck I wanted to go made me laugh with happiness. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and with my heart beating wildly, I called Chris.

“Hey” he said. “We can work this whole thing out, we always do. Where are you?”
“I’m just looking at the ocean.”
“Did you go for a walk?”
“I took Bob’s van.”
He was quiet for a few seconds…”His old bus? Why?”
“For fun.”
“Yeah, that thing is pretty fun if you can get it to start.”
“Um, I was thinking…I’d like to have a little vacation.”
“Ok.”
“I think I want to go now.”
“Ok.”
“like, right now. Like I am going to drive around for a few days.”

I heard him sigh, “Oh, Odette. You are running away from me.”

“No, no, no, not at all. I just haven’t been on a little vacation since that time I visited you in New York. I just want to go away by myself for a couple of days. I can’t be away from Zoe for longer than that anyway, you know that.”

“I hope you are going to come and say goodbye to her at least, right?”

Chris’s voice was shaking a little. I wondered if he was angry. I felt awful that this fun idea was somehow hurting him when it had nothing even to do with him. “I just, I don’t think I need to” I said. I wondered why I couldn’t just drive back to the house, say a quick goodbye and then go. Maybe I would.

“What about the beach house?” he managed to squeak over the phone, “Do you still want to get it?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I thought we were going to do this together.”

“I’ll be back in time for the closing.”

He sighed again, then his tone suddenly changed and he spoke quickly, “You know, Odette, I am going to be busy with promotional crap all around town all week. It isn’t me you are dumping Zoe on, It’s Luna. Maybe you should talk to her.”

“I don’t want to.”

“She’s right here.”

“Oh. OK.”

I could hear Luna’s big breath as she took the phone from Chris, “Just go honey,” she said. “Go find yourself.”

“I’m not lost” I said, aggravated. “This isn’t some huge spiritual trip to India I’m taking, I just want to drive around Florida for a couple of days. Can you watch Zoe?”

“Yes, of course. You know I will.”

“Thanks Luna.”

Chris got back on the phone. “OK, have fun” he said. “Hope I see you again. When am I going to hear from you again?”

“I’ll call you in ten minutes if you want. Don’t be so dramatic. I just want to go for a drive.”

“You, Odette are being dramatic, by not even coming home to get some clothes.”

That was true. I guess that meant he was cool with me not coming home though. This was going to be exciting. But I really didn’t want to feel guilty about it. “Can I please just do something minuscule for myself without alarming everyone or being judged or criticized? Don’t you think a totally spontaneous trip sounds really fun? You should love me even more for this!”

“Are you going to go see Jake?” he said.

This shocked me for some reason. Was I? “No, of course not,” I said, my heart starting to pound again at even the thought of that. “I’m going to Clearwater or Tampa I think. Or I might go visit Kat in Gainesville…you know, since I don’t have much time to go very far, since I have to be back in 3 days for the closing.”

“OK, bye. Be careful, please don’t break down in the middle of nowhere. Jesus, Odette, why don’t you just take your new car that won’t die in the night while you are in the middle of the woods somewhere?”

“Not as fun. Bye Chris,” I said. He hung up quite loudly and I wondered if he slammed his phone on the counter. For some reason this made me smile, then I felt guilty for enjoying that lovely smidgen of pleasure I found in his frustration. But didn’t slamming his phone just mean he totally loved me? There could never be enough reassurance.

Now it was time to clear my head. The pink and gold had faded to black and now the stars were trying to shine through the lights of the beach town. I pulled backwards out of the ocean-view parking spot and began to drive past orange headlights of the other cars with their windows open to also enjoy this perfect evening. The van roared at the traffic light while with one hand I yanked and pulled back the weird make-shift sunroof Bob had made with apparently a chainsaw and duct tape. I hoped I would be able to put it back together properly later. Then I drove off slowly down A1A to somewhere…I wasn’t sure where, but I kind of felt like going out dancing. Gosh it had been so long.

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Chris blew in the front door breathlessly and slammed it shut behind him. He threw his arms in the air, “It’s official! We close on the house on Tuesday!”

I looked up from scraping carrots and put the peeler down. “That is in, like, 3 days.”

“I KNOW! FINALLY!”

“Oh my gosh” I said. “Wow.” I crinkled up my brow at the enormity of it. Our first house that was ours…not rented, and it was going to be a mansion on the beach. How did this even happen?

I looked back up at Chris who was studying me. “You are excited about it, right?” he said.

“Yeah, yeah of course” I said and started to peel the carrot very quickly. I felt like I needed to get this done fast because pretty soon a whole bunch of stuff would need to be taken care of. “It’s just so weird that it actually happened. I was starting to not let myself get excited about it or think about because you said there was such a good chance it would fall through with all the other people interested in it. It’s just, wow, you know?”

“I know! And that carrot is about the skinniest one I have ever seen.”

I looked down to see I had peeled it to a sliver. I put it on the chopping board and my hand was shaking. I looked back up at Chris who was staring at my hand. “What’s wrong?” he said. I looked over at Luna who was putting the chopped potatoes into a large pot a water, and she was also looking over at me, staring at my hand. I pulled it away from the board and rubbed it with the other hand and took a big breath. Luna walked over to me and rubbed my back. “Its only about 5 houses down. I can come there any time you need me.”

I started to feel the gasps building in my chest. How did Luna know? “I just, I don’t even know anything about cooking or cleaning the house.”

“You know plenty,” she said. What are you doing now? Cooking, Odette. You are cooking.”

I nodded and picked up another carrot and began to slowly peel it. Chris sat down at the bar and rested his head in his hands. “Odette, I was really counting on you being excited about this. You said we could do it together remember, at the Fort? You said it would be you and me in this together.”

“We are!” I kept peeling and could feel his eyes on me. “We are” I whispered.

“I can cook and clean,” Chris mumbled.

“I just don’t want things to go back to how they were in Athens, when I could get stuff done for two or three weeks then let everything go for a few weeks, you know? I just don’t want to go back to that.” I threw the peeled carrot in the pot and took the next one.

“We can be however we want to be, Odette,” Chris said, sitting up from his hunched pose. Then he said a little louder, “We can be how we want. Getting all miserable about the most awesome situation isn’t the ‘way to be’. This is how you should be acting right now…Oh my gosh Chris, thank you so much for all your hard work, for going on tour and promoting your music like a dog to get enough money to buy me my dream house so our little family can be happy…
That, Odette, is how you should be acting now. I don’t want to see the quivering and the moaning about oh, poor me, I’m going to have to cook a dinner without constant direction, and heaven forbid, put the dishes in the dishwasher when we are done eating. To be scared about such basic shit is just…crazy.”

I put the carrots down and wiped my hands slowly on my jeans while trying to figure out what to do next. I just needed to not yell at him or freak out on him. I needed to…leave, to get away for a few minutes until I cooled down and could have a conversation that wasn’t brimming with emotion.

“Odette,” he said. “I didn’t really mean that you are crazy. That was a metaphor.”

“A what?” I looked at him like he was an idiot. “A metaphor for what? Crazy is not a metaphor for anything.” I could feel my eyes burning at him. “It is what it is.”

He pursed his lips, stumped.

I grabbed my keys off the counter and walked towards the door. I had always liked the click it made while shutting and I felt a pang of grief that I wouldn’t be hearing that anymore now that we would be moving. And the only reason I could just leave the house right now, leave Zoe with a vexed Chris, was because Luna was there for her too. Freedom was here and now, before the move. I went out to the road and stood and stared at my car. Chris bought me that car. I suddenly didn’t want to drive it, so I walked off down the street and headed towards the bus stop 3 miles down the road, but stopped when I got to Bob and Lucy’s house. Bob’s old VW van was parked out on the street with a for sale sign on it. I smiled. Maybe that was it. Maybe all I had to do was buy myself my own car, then I would be OK with living in Chris’s house. I went and pushed away a few yellow flowers so I could knock on their old weathered, wooden green door.

“Odette!” Bob gave me a big hug. “Come in, child!”

I pointed back at his bus. “I think I want to buy your bus.”

He crinkled up his cratered old nose. “Why?”

I sat there for a minute. Why did I want to buy it? I wanted to buy it because it made me think about Jake. I smiled to myself…and no one would ever know that. “I want to buy it because I need my own car.”

“You have a car, Chris just bought you that brand new beautiful Honda Pilot, your dream car!” He stared at me.

I stood there quietly, my flushed cheeks I was sure would give me away, that I was a terrible person.”

“It is $10, 000 dollars” Bob said.

I jerked forward in utter shock, “what?”

“The surfer kids on this beach love these kinds of cars. I’m only selling it to get some serious cash.”

I stared at him, crushed. I thought I had my answer in his beat up old van but even that was out of reach.

“Can I just drive it around until you sell it?” I said.

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

He didn’t look happy. I could tell he thought I was going to screw Chris over again somehow by driving this car around. That thought almost made me giggle. He was so friggin protective of Chris it was funny. “I’m not going to hurt Chris,” I heard myself say.

He took a big breath, as if my spontaneous declaration was all he needed to hear. He lifted the keys from a hook next to the door and handed them to me. “Are you ever going to bring this back?” he said.

“What? Of course!” I took the keys and hurried of to the van. I had to really yank the door open and hop up inside. It clunked shut with a clatter and roared to a start. I was happy again. I had to stand up to heave the clutch into gear then jerked it out of the parking lot into the street. I could see Bob’s face at his door, worried as ever. I didn’t even know where I was going, but I felt like I was escaping again. Escaping what…I wasn’t sure, but to roar down A1A in this beautiful blue hunk of junk was just the right amount of exciting. I was a problem solver…problem of being powerless…solved. It took some serious arm strength just to get this thing out of a parking spot. I rolled down the windows and turned the tape player on. He had the beach boys in there and I sang at the top of my voice as the clouds turned pink all over the skies, “Help me Ronda help me get her outta my heart!!!”

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Worth Something? – by: Odette

I took my hands away from my face and looked up to see Chris peering over me. “What’s up?”

“I totally blew it,” I said. “Why do you even let me out in public?”

He looked confused, but amused. “What happened?”

“I just can’t seem to act like a normal human being. I can’t help but say things because I think it would be interesting if I actually said them.”

“You leave your filter at home?”

“You think I have a filter?”

“Actually, you are right. You don’t have a filter at home either. Listen, who cares about that job. You don’t even need one.”

“I just don’t like relying completley on you. I like feeling like I am buying myself stuff with my own money.”

“You don’t need a job for that.”

“If you are thinking of my parent’s money, that doesn’t feel great either. I really want to do something where I feel like I’m worth something.”

He sat down next to me and I put my legs over his lap. He reached over for my foot and began to rub it and I lay back with my head on the armrest of the couch and closed my eyes.

He said, “You don’t think that being home with Zoe is worth something?”

“Of course it is” I snapped. But I don’t know how do do anything like cook good meals or clean the house.”

“Well, why don’t you take cooking lessons?”

“That doesn’t sound fun.”

I opened my eyes and he looked a little dismayed. “I’m no house wife,” I said.

“I’m not asking you to be,” he said. “I just don’t like it when you complain about something but don’t have the desire or motivation to take any actions to fix it.”

We were quiet for a minute and he rubbed my other foot.

“I got that guy to sing to me though.”

“What guy?”

“The guy who was interviewing me.”

“I don’t know how you get people to do the things they do around you, Odette,” he said. “Who cares if you blew the interview. I bet that guy does’t sing to people every morning. It is refreshing to be surprised by people every now and then.”

I nodded, I was starting to feel a little less humiliated. Then I remembered how much he offered me. “He wanted to pay me $9 per hour.”

“Well, it’s better than nothing” Chris said.

“It is a complete insult, as if I were a college student scrambling to make enough money to buy pizza and cute dress for Saturday night.”

“Some people live off that,” he said.

I nodded and felt kind of bad. “I know.”

“Weren’t you going to teach dance a while ago, for Evan’s sister?”

“Yeah, that never seemed to pan out,” I said. I sat up and sat next to him, feeling a bit dejected.

“Why don’t you open up your own studio on the beach?” he said.

“Do you realize how much work that would take?” I said. “I want something like my last job, where I wrote a few silly things about clothes and got paid tons of money for it.”

He sighed. “Well, ask them for your job back,” he said.

That hadn’t even occurred to me and I suddenly brightened up.

“I’m gonna try that!” I jumped up and hurried to my room to pull my laptop out onto my bed. Everything in life was like a relationship. If you get ditched because you acted badly, you apologize and ask to be taken back. Now…the best way to apologize without sounding like I couldn’t live without them…

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Interview Number I – by: Odette

I thought I was going to get back the usual, “That’s Ok that your project is late, we are just happy to finally have it and it looks great,” email. But instead it said, “This one was too late. Your final paycheck will be mailed out to you this Friday.”

And so I put the most B.S. resume’ together about how experienced and amazing I was at everything and within days, ended up with an interview at a company in town who created websites for small businesses. It was like what I had been doing before, but for the little guys instead of the big guys.

I had no idea what to wear to the interview. Chris said to wear a suit but I didn’t think that was the right thing for a web company where people most likely wore flip-flops to work. So I pulled out my black boots and a cute yellow dress with black lining on it, then pulled my hair in to a ponytail that I gathered to the side so it draped over one shoulder. I walked out into the living room and Chris said that I looked too cute and to go back and change. I laughed and kissed Luna and Zoe on the cheek and headed out to our new, silver Honda Pilot that Chris bought for me. I think the fact that I didn’t really need a job made everything way easier. When I needed a job in the past I didn’t fudge my resume’ or wear cute dresses, I did everything by the book and it took ages to get a job and I was completely beat down by the humiliating process. This time it was kind of a fun challenge and I wasn’t even nervous to meet these people.

But then I got to the offices, the large glass doors seemed a bit intimidating. My boots clicked loudly against the tile floors to the reception area and I even considered taking them of and tiptoeing through this oddly large office for a web company. Usually it was such a small intimate atmosphere. The guy there told me to sit in a lone, plastic chair next to a big wooden door, and that I would be seen shortly. So I sat, and rubbed my feet nervously on the rug placed in front of the chair. The air-conditioning was COLD in there and I started to think that maybe I would just leave and go to the beach. Then the big door flew open and a guy dressed too nicely for a web company, thrust his hand out for me to shake while barely looking at me. I took his hand firmly and completely zapped him and realized I had probably been rubbing my feet to hard on the rug. He jumped back in surprise and I said, “Sorry, I guess I’m electric.”
He looked at me a little confused and I blurted out, “and I have a family full of eccentrics.”
“What?” he said. “You have a family of what?”
“Eccentrics…It’s a song…Oasis.”
“Oasis?”
My cheeks started to burn at this ridiculous beginning to my interview. I couldn’t even walk in the door without crashing and burning in the first few seconds.
“That’s the name of the group…nevermind.” I shook my head while he was just standing there staring at me like I was some kind of creature he had never seen before in his life.
Then he started to sing in an embarrassingly good voice, “She’s electric, she’s got a family full of eccentrics. She’s done things I’ve never expected.”
He stopped so I finished for him in my sub-par voice, “And I neeeed more time.”
“And your name?” he said.
I thought that was odd he didn’t even look to see who the heck he was interviewing. “Odette”, I said.
“As in, the swan?”
“The good one” I smiled.
“Well that’s a relief” he said, laughing at me, and I felt my cheeks flush again.

And that is how the interview started and at the end he said that he would love to have me but when he told me the ridiculously small salary I balked. I could babysit for that much.
“I’ll have to think about it,” I said.
“How much do you want?” he asked.
When I told him I could tell he was trying again, not to smile. “That is certainly not in our budget right now, Odette, but I will look closely at the writing samples you emailed me and get back with you.”

Then I decided he wasn’t taking me seriously enough. And since I didn’t really care that much about the position I added, “I’m here because I got fired from my last job that paid twice what I’m even asking from you. They kept me on for years longer than they should have because I’m good at this stuff. I’m a professional and for sure better at this job than anyone in this small town.”

He looked utterly turned off. “Why would I want someone who had just been fired?”
“Because that means I’m available, but probably not for long.”

He nodded thoughtfully and said, “OK! Thanks for the interview, Odette.”
I stood up and offered my hand but he kept his arms by his side.
“I think I’ve been shocked enough by you for one day.”

I nodded, my cheeks flushed again and I brushed out of there. “Bye” I mumbled to the front desk guy. He looked up smiling brightly at me this time and I thought, at least I mixed up their boring morning a little.

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Back On The Beach – by: Jake

It was strange to be back in St. Augustine and to know that I wouldn’t be seeing Odette. It had been a pretty awesome few days. Rissa and I just spent the whole time either holed up in our small hotel room on the beach, at some cafe’ where she knew every damn person that worked there, or out on the sand surrounded by a continued ebb and flow of her endless admirers / friends. They just ate up her stories and her laughter. But even though I was with the cutest and best surfer girl on the beach and in the South…for real, I still found myself keeping my eyes peeled everywhere, for Odette. Not seeing her at all during this trip would be like eating a whole ice-cream sundae with hot fudge and sprinkles, but no whipped cream.

So I sat on the sand under the blazing sun. It kept me warm through the cool winter breeze coming off the water and I watched Rissa in her cotton-candy-pink wetsuit, (I’m not joking, it’s seriously fucking pink) tear up the waves. I looked around to see other people, other guys watching her surf and I decided to go for a walk down the beach. I would just walk far enough to come to Luna’s house then back again. I wouldn’t go in or anything of course, just walk past it then turn around and come back.

It was kind of a long walk down the beach. I didn’t remember that. I started to jog a little and thought about my board just sitting on the sand back there with no one watching it. I finally got close and all the memories came flooding back. I looked at the deck where Chris kicked my ass and remembered feeling my ribs crack underneath him. I could sense the exact level of his anger with each blow upon my chest and that made me smile now. Perhaps I was a sick bastard for remembering it fondly, but the fact remained that every punch was because Odette wanted me more than him. And no matter how many times or how hard he plowed his fist into my chest,nothing was going to change that fact. That felt good, like the sun warm on my bare back.

I absentmindedly rubbed my rib that had only just finally healed. Then I jumped a little as I saw Odette, Chris and Zoe come walking out of Luna’s kitchen door onto the porch deck. I was far enough away that they probably wouldn’t notice me right away so I turned and walked away slowly, then found a dune to sit behind for a little while. Then after a couple of minutes I looked out from behind the dune and saw the three of them on the beach. Chris was throwing Zoe up in the air and catching her and then when he put her down she would go running off as Odette chased after her then carried her back to their stunningly sweet family unit. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. When did she get this happy with Chris? I really thought he wouldn’t be able to handle her shit and would be long gone by now. But there they were. I saw her look in my direction then look again and she seemed to freeze so I walked slowly behind the dune and sat down back there. I felt my heart pumping and I felt a bit slimy, like some weird stalker or something. I wondered if I should trample over the dunes and mess of sand-spurs and vines and flowers, and hopefully not rattle snakes, until I got to the road. That way she wouldn’t see me again. But instead I just sat there and waited. I guess I know her well enough that she can’t stay away from me and sure enough, about 45 minutes later she came looking for me and stopped and looked down at my pitiful ass, sitting there behind the dune, waiting for her to appear.

“Hi” I said.

“Hi.”

I stood up and brushed the sand off my shorts and my back. “What the fuck was that little scene I just witnessed? When did you turn into Mary Poppins or some shit?”

She looked a little amused. “Mary Poppins was a NANNY. I am Zoe’s MOTHER. But I think I get that you are trying to say that we look happy, right?”

“Right” I smiled at her. I wanted to hug her. She was so comfortable around me and her hair blew in this amazing way in the wind, like it knew how to dance out there or something. “God, I’ve missed you.” I said, surprising myself at the emotion in my voice. I think I surprised her too because she suddenly looked uncomfortable.

“How are things with Rissa?” she said, a little briskly.

“They’re awesome.”

“Good!” She said, like a sorority girl who was good at giving really warm feedback.

I nodded at her.

“I have to go.” she said. “Luna’s making dinner and I promised I would put the salad together.”

“I just wanted to see you” I said, a little weirdly-emotional again with my voice unexpectedly shaking. But this time she looked like she understood.

“I’m glad you, came.” She looked around her. “Where did you come from?”

“Rissa and I are staying down the beach at a little hotel. She got the room for free somehow. I don’t even bother to ask anymore. People just do anything for that girl. All she has to do is smile at them.”

Odette nodded, frowning at me with this intense interest like she was trying to figure me out. “Cool” she said, as if she knew she had to say something and that was the most benign thing she could throw at me.

“Goodbye Silver Swann” I said. I did some awkward, gentle, punch-her-in-the-shoulder move. She knew me well enough to know I was dying to touch her and that was the only way I could do it.

“Bye Jake,” she said and smoothed some of that long, light hair behind her ear. Then she just turned and hurried off. I watched her white skirt catch her ankles as she strode gracefully across the sand. Her white sweater was a bit long at her wrists and she curled her fingers over it and I saw her wipe her face. Was she wiping her eye? Was she crying? I sure hoped so.

I turned and started to walk back down the beach to find Rissa. I knew she wouldn’t be mad at my unexplained absence. Even if she suspected I went to see Odette, she knows I would never purposely do anything to hurt her. Also that girl never keeps track of time, or score. But it was likely she left my board on the beach, and hopefully I wasn’t locked out of the hotel room that for some reason only she had a card-key for. I felt good though, like I had just stuck my tongue out and filled my whole mouth with sweet whipped cream. Now I just had to be sure not to start craving it again.

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Bike Ride

We glided through the busy old stone streets on our bikes and I stopped short in front of the candy shop. Chris stopped next to me and smiled at what I was staring at. It was the biggest, reddest chocolate covered strawberry ever.

“Let’s get that,” he said.

“OK”. We locked the bikes together and went in the candy shop. He held my hand while we waited to be served and for some reason this made me really giggly. He grinned at me. “You’re such a weirdo. All we have to do is get you an alien-looking strawberry and you are giddy as a Zoe on the trampoline.”

We sat outside on the concrete benches lining the street that was blocked off from traffic, just for pedestrians (we probably weren’t supposed to have our bikes there) and I ate my monster strawberry while he had some homemade malted milk-balls. “Now this isn’t so bad.” He said, referring to my original hesitance to go on this bike ride with him.

“This is really fun” I said with a mouth full of dripping strawberry. He nodded happily. “Lets go get a couple for Zoe” I said. “The dark chocolate ones probably don’t have diary in them.”

“Ok.”

We shoved the paper bag of strawberries in Chris’s backpack and headed off to the Coquina Spanish Fort where we put a big blanket down on the grass and stretched out under the sun with the cool air blowing gently across us. Chris had his hands behind his head and I sat up pulling grass out of the ground and annoying ants that roamed onto the blanket. “I saw the house you want to get,” I said.

He sat up, “Well its not a hundred percent yet and these things often fall through. I almost didn’t want you to see it yet so you wouldn’t be disappointed if it didn’t work out.”

“We can do this together you know.”

“We can?”

“Sure.”

We were quiet for a while but I could practically hear him thinking. His eyes kept twitching and he kept rubbing his hands together. Finally he said, “It takes a gorgeous house to get you back then?”

I laughed out loud. “Actually it took a lot of thinking and soul searching but we both know that we don’t want to be with anyone else right? I mean, I was watching Downton Abby late last night and one of the things the guy, Matthew says to Mary, is, “As long as you are on this earth, I’m not going to be happy with anyone else.” And I realized when he said that, that I completely  understand. We may not be perfect but I am never going to love anyone like I love you so we need to try and make this work.”

“I agree, Odette” he said and took my hand. Then he scooted up close to me and kissed me, sitting there on the blanket in front of everyone. I thought then about when we were back at our house in Athens while I sat on the couch with my screen and he sat there looking at his screen and all I wanted was some romance back in my life. Now here it was, somehow, with Chris. And how amazing to feel comfortable, like I wasn’t hurting anyone. But I also knew this could crumble as quickly as it all semmed to come together.

“I need you to promise me one thing before I let my guard down again,” I said quietly.

“What’s that?” He took my hand again and looked into my face to really listen. Once again I was stunned that he was doing what I had wanted all along, to just listen and care and love me.

“You can’t disappear again, like after Meliah died, then again when you went on tour.”

He sat back a bit. “On tour, I needed to work thorough everything. It would have been impossible to chat like everything was OK. And I didn’t disappear when Meliah died. I was with you every day.”

“You know what I mean though, right? We’ve talked about this.”

“Yeah, I know. And I’ve said I was sorry and here you are bringing it up again. Do you want me to bring up what you did to punish me for that whole thing?”

“Well, I don’t really want to fight about it. If we rehash the problems of the past in every fight we have no chance, Chris. You do realize that, right?”

“Then why are you brining it up!!??”

“I just want to make sure you aren’t going to abandon me again!” I yelled at him. The people near us probably thought we were nuts to be kissing one minute then yelling at each other the next.

“How about this,” Chris said, a little quiter. “I promise to stick around and be open with you, if you promise not to even FLIRT with another guy for all the days of our lives, till death do us part.”

“I can’t even flirt?” I smiled cheekily.

“Not funny. Yes, or no?”

“Yes.”

“Really? I’ll believe it when I see it. That means with Evan too. And holding hands in a ‘plutonic way’ counts as flirting. Don’t think I don’t have spies out there on the beach.”

“What!?”

“Some friends of Bob and Lucy’s reported that you were holding hands with another guy yesterday so Bob went out there and saw you sitting with Evan. He said he spied on you guys for a while but you just talked about me the whole time, that it was a good conversation and that you obviously still love me.” He smiled.

“Spies? Chris…you are out of your mind.”

“You made me that way. But do we have a deal?”

I looked around us, at the other people lying on blankets on the grass in the sunshine. There were teenagers, like how we were when we met, and there were couples and families of all different ages. Did I want to be here with him again in 10 years? How about 20?

“OK,” I said.

“OK.”

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