I packed pre-made food and a bare minimum of stuff and arrived in Oceanside around nine a.m. I went to bed at ten-thirty. Between those hours I did little other than write. Although I did take a walk around dusk--my favorite time of day, other than morning, of course. I wrote 13k words. Today, I hope to write 15k.
My husband is on a business trip. He'll get back to Rancho late tonight. I won't return until Wednesday afternoon. My goal is to write 20k words. And post pictures of Oceanside.
Words cannot describe how much I love this place.
I ended up coming home because I hated being so cut off from anyone. If I needed to call or text anyone, I had to stand on the balcony. If I wanted the internet, I had to drive ten minutes to the McDonalds... I know isolation was part of the goal, but it was making me unhappy.
Overall, I wrote more than 50 pages--about 18k words. I'm still on track to make 50k words by the end of the month. I can still crush this goal, even though I abandoned ship and came home earlier than expected.
Gustav, stooped with age, hunkered down on his stool in front of his workbench, oblivious to the sounds of death and destruction falling around him. The comforting sounds of a hundred tick-tocking clocks provided a blanket to muffle the bomb’s whistling screams and corresponding rocketing explosions.
His gnarled fingers shook as a blast shook his shop and decimated another close by, but that was more from age than fright. He had lived a long life—much longer than he, or anyone else, had expected. He glanced out the window at the nearby flickering flames. The sudden rise in temperature caused beads of sweats to form on his brow. He removed his glasses, patted his forehead, and resumed his work.
A barking dog loped past his window. A woman clutching a basket followed. Footsteps padded down the steps that led to his shop and banging shook his door.
“Gustav!” A young man’s voice called. “Come, we must go!” The door shook as the pounding grew more and more incessant.
With a sigh, Gustav, put down his tools and unfolded his long limbs. They were stiff from sitting in a prolonged position. He didn’t answer the door to save his own life, but out of concern for his neighbor, Wilbur—a young man with a wife and children who, thank God, had already left for the safe countryside. Wilbur had a reason to live, while Gustav did not. He didn’t feel the need to explain to Wilbur that running away was a young man’s game.
“I will stay here with my clocks,” Gustav told him. “They know when my time will come. But you must go. Do not worry about me.”
Wilbur tried to argue with him, but to prove his point, Gustav firmly closed his door and turned the lock. Settling down at his workbench, he picked up the tiny gears of his current project, a clock that would be the wedding gift for his grandson. The rosewood case matched the color of his own Gretel’s hair, the ivory face the color of her porcelain skin. As he worked, he hummed the song played at his own wedding by his uncle’s fiddling band.
Each clock was a labor of love for Gustav, but this one was special, because, he suspected, it would be his last. This thought didn’t bring him fear, but rather warmed him with the knowledge that this clock would continue to tick-tock long after his own heart stopped beating. Clocks, he knew, are like love, they continue when everything else fails.
Los Angeles International Airport
Darby stood in the line snaking its way toward the crowded Starbuck’s counter. She shivered, but this had more to do with nerves and anticipation than the over-zealous air-conditioning or her lack of caffeine. She glanced at the board announcing the arriving flights and consulted her watch.
Benjamin’s plane had been delayed again. Which was really hard to understand. After all, it was August, not the dead of winter where one might expect turbulent weather…But of course, he was flying from London. When she had flown from London to L.A., their flight had gone over the North Pole—and rotten weather was sure to be happening there, so…she needed to be patient. But she had been patient far too long already. She hadn’t seen Benjamin in three whole months—other than on Facetime, or social media, of course.
Not that she had known him for much longer.
A sudden splash of burning hot wetness on her silk blouse pulled Darby’s thoughts away from Benjamin and onto the demise of her outfit. “Ow!” she pulled her blouse away from her chest and stared at the brown stain spreading like cancer.
“Oh! I’m sorry!” A man with large hands grabbed a handful of napkins from the dispenser on a nearby table and tried to pat her chest.
She flinched away from him and noticed for the first time his face. Aside from the embarrassed and apologetic expression on his face, he was incredibly gorgeous in a young Paul Newman way—blond, blue-eyed, and rugged and weathered as if he spent a good deal of time outside. He was almost as good looking, but in a completely different way, as Benjamin. But of course, Benjamin was a model and an actor. This man was a silk blouse staining moron.
“It’s okay,” she said, moving away from his clumsy hands and wads of napkins, even though it obviously wasn’t because the coffee was scalding, her blouse was probably going to be ruined and even worse, she’d now have to welcome Benjamin to L.A. with a giant brown spot on her shirt.
“Oh no, I can tell your upset.” He shook the coffee off his own hands, making her realize he’d burned himself as well. “Let me pay for your dry-cleaning, at least.”
“No, don’t be silly,” she said, edging away from him, which wasn’t easy to do because of the crowd around them. Most were ignoring them, but a few watched with open curiosity, waiting to see her response. Darby gulped back her frustration because she didn’t want to make a scene.
“How about I buy you lunch?” he said.
Darby glanced at the board, noting that Benjamin’s flight was delayed another hour. She sighed. “Okay,” she agreed.
The man’s smile totally transformed his face. He was actually much more handsome than she’d originally thought. Maybe even a close match to Benjamin. Not that looks mattered. She didn’t love Benjamin for his (stunning) appearance. Looks had nothing to do with their almost instant and fatal attraction.
“I’m waiting for my boyfriend’s delayed flight,” Darby told the handsome blouse-destroying stranger, just so he would know he didn’t stand a chance with her, that there wasn’t anything romantic in their getting to know each other, and that her heart was pledged elsewhere to another much less clumsy man. This was just a free lunch.
He looked at his watch, an intricate timepiece on a leather band. He had strong, thick wrists and covered with blond nearly transparent hair. Darby shivered again. She hated when men had dark gorilla fuzz, and she tried to recall Benjamin’s arms, but couldn’t. This bothered her.
“My sister’s flight is also late,” the man was saying as he guided her into a nearby restaurant.
“Weird, right? I mean, it’s August and sunny and warm.” Darby glanced around the posh restaurant. It was hard to believe that just a flimsy partition separated them from the noise and bustle of the rest of the airport.
“Not all delays are weather-related,” he said. “I’m Chad George, by the way,” he said, sticking out his hand.
“Darby Coleman,” she replied, liking his strong grip.
A waitress name Kayla led them to a table overlooking the tarmac.
“What do you do, Darby Coleman, when you’re not waiting for boyfriends in the airport?” Chad asked as soon as they were seated.
“I’m an accountant,” she said.
He leaned back. “Really?”
“Why do you look so surprised?” Darby fussed with her napkin, slightly miffed because his response was typical. Most people had the exact same reaction when she said she was an accountant and it bothered her that no one seemed to take her seriously.
“You just don’t look like an accountant.”
Darby sat a little straighter, trying to add inches to her five-foot-three frame. “And what do you think accountants should look like?”
“Well, for one thing, they don’t wear strappy red sandals and Fossil@ jeans.”
“Maybe not to work.”
“Although they might wear silk blouses. Just not with big brown stains on them.”
Darby didn’t mean to scowl, but she couldn’t help it. She picked up a menu to hide her expression. “I’m actually freaky good with numbers.”
He lifted a skeptical eyebrow. “Really?”
She lowered the menu. “Yeah. Go ahead, test me.”
“Okay, what’s three-thousand and forty-nine divided by sixty-three?”@
He typed the math problem onto the calculator app on his phone. “You’re right. Amazing.”
She shrugged and went back to studying the menu. After a moment, she settled on a shrimp salad. “What do you do?”
“I’m a teacher at a small private school.”
This surprised and concerned her because teacher’s salaries usually didn’t stretch to cover fancy airport restaurants. “That’s noble,” she said. “It must be really rewarding.” Just not financially. She quickly changed her mind about the shrimp salad and selected a cup of soup.
“Sometimes,” he said with a smirk.
Kayla the waitress returned to take their orders, and Chad surprised her by getting the steak.
“Are you sure you just want soup?” he asked.
She nodded, even though she really wasn’t quite so sure anymore. After all, the sun glinting off the airplanes told her that it had to be warm outside away from the air conditioning. The thermostat had been pushing toward eighty when she’d been in her car and that was before it was even noon.
“I love tomato soup,” she said. “I practically lived on it when I lived in London.” Where it had been cold and dreary most of the year.
“You lived in London?”
She nodded. “That’s where I met Benjamin—my boyfriend, the one I’m waiting for.” Just saying Benjamin and boyfriend in the same sentence sent a happy tingle down her spine. She recalled his face to remind herself of how much she loved him and how perfect he was for her and how romantic their first meeting had been—much more romantic than some doofus spilling his coffee on her and ruining her favorite blouse. @GO BACK AND HAVE HER GO TO THE RESTROOM TO TRY AND SALVAGE HER BLOUSE.
Not that Chad looked like a doofus. And he was a teacher—the noblest of vocations. Because the conversation lagged, Darby found herself telling Chad about how she met Benjamin. “He literally fell into my life!”
Chad leaned back as Kayla returned with their food and placed a thick slice of steak with a side of a baked potato oozing with butter and a serving of steamed vegetables in front of Chad and a cup of steaming hot soup in front of Darby.
Darby opened a bag of crackers and crumbled them into her soup. “We met the day before I left London. Sad, right?”
Chad looked as if he didn’t know how to respond. After a moment, he came up with, “What were you doing in London?”
“I’m a private banker for @, and one of our clients was having issues. I thought at first it was a huge honor for them to send me, but then I realized that no one else wanted to go.”
Darby frowned. She really wasn’t supposed to talk about her clients, especially if she didn’t have anything good to say. “Let’s just say that my client likes to smoke cigars.” She lifted a spoonful to soup to her lips. Yep, it was hot. After a moment, she added. “He had other vices, as well.”
“And you can’t tell me what those are?” he said with a smirk.
She shook her head. “No, I can’t. Sorry.”
Chad cut into his steak and it let out a waft of heavenly scent. “So, tell me about the boyfriend that fell on you.”
Darby set down her spoon. “He was at a party right above my hotel room and there was a fire. Of course, I didn’t know that since I was asleep in my bed. Anyway, to escape the fire, he jumped down onto my balcony saw me sleeping and woke me up.”
The memory of Benjamin’s gorgeous and concerned face waking her flashed in her mind. “He picked me up and carried me outside.” She didn’t add that they had spent the rest of the night making out on the hotel lawn and that she’d only been wearing a silk teddy. Remembering the cold wet grass pressing against her naked legs, Darby took another spoonful of soup. “It was so romantic.”
“But then you left London?”
“So you really don’t know him very well.”
Darby bristled because this was exactly what her mom, sisters, brothers, and friends had been saying. “We’ve skyped every day. In some ways, this a better way to get to know each other because you don’t get carried away with snogging. That’s the British word for—”
“I know all about snogging,” he said with a smirk.
Yes, from the looks of him, he probably did.
“I know it’s absolutely none of my business, but when you only know each other via social media, it’s really easy to just show your good bits.”
Wow. He really did sound like her mom. “You’re right.” She swallowed another spoonful of soup. “It’s none of your business. But sometimes, when you meet the right person, you just know.”
“You just know, huh?”
She nodded. “That’s how it was for me and Benjamin. He fell into my life at just the right time. It was meant to be.”
“Hmm…I wonder if the hotel owner felt the same way.”
“What? Why would they care?”
“It was their hotel on fire, right? I just wonder if they had such a fatalistic attitude.” He grinned and took a bite of his steak. “I’m waiting for my sister,” he said after a moment to fill the awkward silence. “She’s coming into town to help celebrate my grandfather’s eightieth birthday.”
When Darby didn’t comment—because really, what could she say except that she wished this dreadful lunch and the waiting for Benjamin was over?
While Chad went on and on about his family, barely even noticing her prolonged silence, Darby ate her soup as quickly as she could without slurping and occupied her thoughts with memories mingled with fantasies about Benjamin.
Where he would stay had been a trick since she couldn’t very well bring him home. Not only was she from a long line of staunch Catholics, she was also from a large family…who happened to live in a not so large house. At the moment, she shared that house with her parents, her older brother Tom, her older sister, Meg and her three little kids, her other sister, Henley, her Grandma Betty, and the dog, Wheezer.
Benjamin, of course, had understood and made arrangements with some friends who lived in L.A.. Still, it made snogging difficult.
“Are your grandparents still alive,” Chad interrupted her thoughts.
“Yes,” she said, thinking of Grandma Betty. She did not want to talk about Grandma Betty. Darby shoveled in the last drop of soup and put down her spoon. “It’s been really nice meeting you and thanks for the lunch, but I have to go.” She gathered up her purse, said goodbye and left.
Chad watched Darby walk away. His guilt pricked him about the blouse. He’d have to ask Cecelia about the cost of blouses. He finished off his meal, gave Kayla his credit card, and wandered back to the baggage claim area where he’d arranged to meet Cecelia. He spotted Darby across the room. She had her back to him, but he knew it was her because of her high ponytail and dark curls—another very non-account sort of trait. She sat on a chair, her legs crossed. A book dangled from her hand.
He wondered what she was reading, considered going over and asking, but quickly changed his mind when he heard, “Chadwick!”
He spun around and opened his arms to his sister. She launched herself at him and he caught her. “Hey!” he smiled down into her beaming face. “I’m so glad to see you!”
She grimaced. “The parentals giving you a hard time?”
He nodded slightly. “It’ll be good to have you here to take off some of the heat.”
A small frown touched Cecelia’s lips.
“Just kidding,” Chad said as instant guilt swamped him. He wanted his sister home and not for the reason he just gave. He had missed her while she’d been in Paris.
She pulled away from him, and he took in her tired green eyes and the rumpled hair. Like him, she shared their mother’s coloring and height. He also noticed her blouse. It looked a lot like the one Darby had been wearing—minus the coffee stain, of course. “Huh, Cecelia, strange request.”
She lifted her eyebrows, waiting.
“Can I buy that blouse off you?”
Confusion flitted across her face. “What? Seriously?”
He nodded. “I spilled coffee on this woman, and I want to make it up to her.”
Cecelia elbowed him. “Do you like her?”
“You know I’m with Jenna.”
“Ah. Yes, Jenna.” Cecelia blew out a sigh.
“What? You like Jenna.”
“Of course I do.” She looped her arm around Chad’s. “But if we both like Jenna so much, why are we giving this stranger my blouse?”
“I just…I probably not only spilled coffee on her, but I also probably offended her.”
“Oh! Tell me!”
Beside them, the luggage carousal began to whirr, announcing the arrival of bags.@
Chad repeated Darby and Benjamin’s story. “I shouldn’t have said anything. I mean, I barely know her. Why should I care if she’s being scammed by this guy?”
“What makes you think she’s being scammed? If you like her enough to give her my blouse, he probably likes her, too.”
He thought about this. She didn’t actually say that she had bought Benjamin’s ticket to L.A., so what had made him think that she had? He raked through their brief conversation in his mind trying to put his finger on what had raised his hackles…Raised his hackles—that was something Grandpa Bern would say. Still, his hackles were quivering and maybe if he gave Darby a blouse he’d feel better…and maybe he could forget her as she obviously wanted him to.
“Let’s not give her this blouse, because, you know, I’ve been wearing it for the last ten hours,” Cecelia said. “If you really like her, you can pick one from my suitcase.”
Chad brightened, and he cast Darby another glance.
Cecelia followed his gaze. “Is that her?”
“She’s a lot smaller than me,” Cecelia said.
“That’s okay, right? It’s better for the shirt to be too big rather than too small.”
Cecelia nodded at the luggage carousal. “There’s my bag. It’s got a bandana on the handle.”
Chad hurried to the carousal to retrieve the bag. Cecelia followed him to an unoccupied row of chairs. Chad placed the suitcase on the chairs and Cecelia unlocked it.
Clothes in all shapes, sizes, and colors…he didn’t know how to do this.
Cecelia took pity on him. She pulled out a silky floral top with a ruffle for a sleeve. “How’s this?”
He nodded. “Good choice. How much?”
Cecelia’s eyes glinted as she waved the blouse in front of him like a flirty flag. “Fifty dollars.”
Chad faked a smile and wondered what made Cecelia and his dad, for that matter, so greedy. They all had generous trust funds. Chad reached into his pocket, pulled out some bills and handed them to his sister.
Cecelia reached for the money, but he yanked it away. “You’ve got to give it to her.”
“What?” Cecelia demanded.
“You have to be the one to give her the blouse.”
“No way! You’re the one who spilled the coffee!”
“Yeah, but I don’t want her to get the wrong idea.”
Cecelia narrowed her eyes. “And what idea is that?”
“I’m never going to see her again, so—”
“Exactly, you’re never going to see her again.”
He blew out a breath, reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and drew out another twenty.
Cecelia held out her hand, wrapped her fingers around the bills, and stuffed the money in her pocket as if she was afraid Chad would change his mind.
“Excuse me.” A tall lovely blonde dressed in jeans and a tank top stood in front of Darby. “Are you Darby?”
Confused, Darby didn’t answer right away.
“I can tell you are by that large coffee stain on your blouse,” the woman continued. She dropped a floral bit of fabric onto Darby’s lap. “My brother asked me to give you this.”
Darby glanced around, searching for Chad, but she couldn’t see him.
“If you’re looking for Chad, he’s gone to get the car.” The blonde dropped into the empty seat beside Darby. “He doesn’t know I’m doing this.”
“But you just said he asked you to give me the blouse,” Darby said, recovering her voice.
“Oh, he knows about the blouse. That was his idea. It’s my idea to get your number.”
“I’m Cecelia, by the way, Chad’s sister.”
“I know,” Cecelia said, smiling. “What I don’t know is your number.”
“Did Chad tell you that I’m waiting for my boyfriend? He’s coming all the way from England. I think we’re going to get married…someday.”
An unreadable expression flinted across Cecelia’s face. “Chad doesn’t know I’m asking for your number.”
“Oh…it’s you, then?”
Cecelia pressed her hand against her chest and laughed. “Huh, no. You think I’m a lesbian?” She laughed some more, then sobered. “I’m just acting on a hunch. If you want the blouse, I need your number.”
“But I don’t want your blouse.” Darby handed it back to Cecelia. “I mean it’s really nice of you…and Chad. But he already bought me lunch. That’s enough. You don’t need to give me your shirt.”
“Are you sure? Because what’s your boyfriend going to think when he sees you with that big ugly stain?” But Cecelia took the shirt, rolled it up, and tucked it into her bag.
“I’m sure,” Darby said with a laugh. “But here, you can have my card.”
Cecelia gazed at it. “You’re an accountant?”
Darby shrugged off the insult. “I don’t know why people always seem so shocked.”
Cecelia tucked the card into her bag. “Maybe it’s because you don’t have a pocket protector.”
“I’ll have to get one of those if you think it’ll help people take me more seriously.”
“Well, it was nice to meet you, Darby the accountant.”
“And it was very nice to meet you, too, Cecelia, the sister of Chad.”