Authors: Ellie Danes,Lily Knight
I looked around the small bar and grille, situated between a major highway and the smooth beaches of the California coast. My last couple of years at Keefer’s Bar and Grille had seen their share of ups and downs, but all in all, I couldn’t really picture a better place to work. Besides, the view was always spectacular.
With a smile on my face, I walked back to the bar area, ignoring the ache in my feet. Today may have been a good day, but the day before had done me in. One of the other waitresses had called in sick, and since I needed the money, I had jumped at the chance for a double shift. However, after two shifts the day before, it seemed like the clock had literally crawled hour after hour. Luckily, four o’clock wasn’t too far away, the golden hour for me! I would be free to do what I wanted for an entire evening before it would start all over again. I couldn’t wait.
Brushing my hair back into the sweeping ponytail high on my head, I busied myself with washing the glasses, finding anything and everything to do to pass the time and take my mind off of my aching feet. While the shoes were mostly comfortable, I really needed another pair, but money was tight and I couldn’t afford to buy a new pair right now.
Startled, I rushed to the kitchen to see the new girl, Mary, struggling to balance a tray of food on her thin arms. It was her first week, and judging from her performance up to that point, I doubted she’d had much waitressing experience or even experience carrying food from the stove to the table for that matter. Poor thing, I felt for her.
“Here, let me help you,” I offered, stepping in and taking the tray from her. “Remember you can’t put all of the plates on here like this. It will always be too heavy.”
Mary wiped her forehead and gave me a grateful smile, looking flustered and a bit embarrassed. “Thanks, Emma. I’m sorry. I forgot, and I was just trying to get the food out in time. Do you want me to unload it?”
I shook my head and gave her a smile. “No, I’ve got it. You go get those drinks. I’ll take care of this.”
“You’re the best,” Mary replied, turning to take over the drink order she had already garnered from another table. I walked out and delivered the food to the waiting customers, checking on their drinks and anything else they might need before walking back to the kitchen. While I enjoyed working at the bar and grille, there were a lot of things I found myself being responsible for that weren’t in my job description and I sure as heck wasn’t getting paid for. For instance, I made sure the bar was always fully stocked. Many times I was responsible for making deposits at the bank and training the new staff on top of working as a waitress. It was a hard thing to juggle. The owner, Sam, was a decent fellow but he owned two other restaurants and the bar was the smallest of them all. He saw to it that we got everything we needed, but didn’t feel like he actually needed a manager, happy to let me take care of it. Since I needed my job, I hadn’t said much about it. But the wear and tear of this type of work day in and day out was starting to get old.
“Hey, Emma, can you get table four?” Mary asked as she rushed by me, her arms laden with plates, a harried look on her face. “I still have to get the food out to table ten.” I gave her a tight-lipped smile and grabbed a stack of menus, my eyes glancing up at the clock. Ten minutes. That’s all I had. “Sure.”
She disappeared through the kitchen doors, and I walked over to the table. Nine minutes. By the time I got their drink orders and delivered them, there were only about five minutes left to take their orders and get them in the system. I did it all in three minutes, taking my last few minutes to put my apron up and grab my bag. I had plans.
“Hey, I’m gone!” I yelled into the kitchen, getting a wave from the cook, Chris, as well as Mary and my replacement for the rest of the evening, Betty. I clocked out. Going into the bathroom, I hurriedly slipped on my bathing suit and threw my shorts on, excitement starting to build in my veins. Surfing was something I’d picked up in my early teens and had never really been able to shake. Now, after each shift, I tried to squeeze in an hour or two on the water. It was the one place I could let go of all the stress of my life. All the worry practically melted away as I slid over the waves. I couldn’t wait.
Throwing my stuff back into the bag, I walked out of the bathroom and ran smack into Betty. “I am so sorry,” I said automatically, catching her before she fell.
“It’s alright,” Betty replied, smoothing her apron nervously. I knew immediately something was up. Betty didn’t hide her emotions too well. “Hey, Emma? Is there any way you can work the lunch shift for me tomorrow? I have a family emergency I can’t really get out of.”
I looked at her, seeing the hesitant smile on her face and knew that she was lying to me . . . again. While Betty was a nice girl, she had a penchant for lying about her reasons she needed to be off work. I’d covered for her numerous times and, while I enjoyed the extra money, the last thing I wanted to see on social media was that she’d lied to me. I’m the kind of person who’d rather she just be up front with me in the first place.
So I called her on it. “Come on, Betty, what’s the real reason?”
Betty bit her lip and leaned toward me, her eyes sparkling. “I have a hot date tomorrow,” she whispered. “To the matinee movie. We’ve been trying to get together for like forever, and this is our only chance this week. I’m sorry I lied about it, but I didn’t think it was a reason you’d want to hear.”
I sighed, knowing Betty’s boyfriend was a brush firefighter who had very limited free time. She was forever talking about his schedule and their lack of time together and my heart softened a little. There was no way I could turn her down. “Fine, yes. I can cover for you.”
“Oh, thank you!” she squealed, throwing her arms around my neck and hugging me. “I swear, any time you need me to cover, you just let me know.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Have a good evening,” I said as she released me. I couldn’t say no. Besides, I could always use the extra money. It was a win for both of us. She walked away to start her shift and I headed outside.
The California sun greeted me as I walked through the parking lot, the sound of the ocean roaring, beckoning me to it. I loved that the bar and grille was across the street from the beach — my absolute favorite place on earth. It was only natural for me to want to work there the first moment I saw the ocean, especially since it made it exceptionally easy for me to surf every day as well.
I walked to my car, a beat up sedan that had seen better days, and reached for my surfboard on the roof, untying the intricate knots before pulling it down. The fiberglass was warm beneath my fingers as I threw my stuff in the passenger seat and shimmied out of my shorts, grabbing my wetsuit and pulling it on over my swimsuit quickly. The light wasn’t going to be around for long, and I wanted to fit in at least an hour before I had to head home.
As luck would have it, my phone started to ring and I was forced to lean my board against the car as I dug into my purse, frowning when I saw the number on the display. My ex-boyfriend, Tim. It had been a month since I’d caught him lying to me, after which I immediately broke up with him. If there was one thing I didn’t tolerate, it was lying. That went double for my romantic relationships. And that was a tough rule to live by when you had to kick a funny, smart guy like Tim to the curb, but I couldn’t do it no matter how much he begged and pleaded. And believe me, he had begged and pleaded. Even after the countless times I’d told him the very same thing, it seemed that he just couldn’t compute . . . or maybe he was just that stubborn. Who knew? Pressing the accept button, I held the phone to my ear.
“Tim, you have one minute. There are waves.”
“Babe,” he started out. “I am so sorry. You gotta believe me. I don’t want us to be apart. I am missing you so bad, it’s killing me.”
“You should have thought about that before you did what you did,” I replied, the hurt no longer coursing through my veins as it had the first few days after his betrayal. I was over it and he should be too.
“I’m sorry, Emma,” he said again, his voice sounding genuinely mournful. “I know I told you I was a model, but I just wanted to impress you. Please forgive me.”
“I wouldn’t have cared if you were a janitor,” I said, the hurt returning a little. I really liked him when we first met. Tall, handsome, and his great sense of humor had swept me away immediately. It was disappointing, really, that he couldn’t carry his outward appearance to the inside. “I would have loved you anyway. But now, Tim, I can’t.”
“Aw come on, Em,” he started. “It’s just one little white lie. You can’t end the entire relationship, everything we had together, because of one little white lie.”
“One lie,” I said firmly, “is more than enough. If you would lie to me about something as trivial as a job, there’s no telling what else you would lie to me about. Now lose my number and do not call me again.”
“Emma, don’t you hang up on me,” he said as I pulled the phone away from my ear and pressed the end button, tired of his excuses. I didn’t have time for that. I needed someone who was going to be honest and truthful with me, someone who realized I didn’t have to be impressed by a big job and loads of money.
With a sigh, I cut off the phone and tossed it into my glove compartment, pushing my bag under my seat out of sight before locking the car and placing the key in the hideaway box underneath the bumper. It was time to hit the waves.
“Oh, my! I never thought I would see anything like this. Coop, just look at that sparkling water! It’s beautiful!”
I smiled at Mom’s excited tone as I maneuvered the rental car up the hill leading to my Aunt Sophie’s house. After the scare with the gang at the bar, I was completely certain I had made the right decision to get both Mom and myself out of the neighborhood. I turned over the day to day operations of the bar to Jane. She had always been more than qualified for the job she did behind the bar. In fact, she’s the one who trained me when I started. Then I packed Mom up for a trip out west to visit her sister. I didn’t tell her about the incident with the masked men at the bar, and if she suspected anything was wrong, she wasn’t saying anything . . . which usually meant she didn’t suspect a thing. All she knew was I was taking her on a surprise trip to see Aunt Sophie.
We flew one way out to California and then rented a car to drive to Malibu. I wasn’t sure how long we might stay. All I really knew was that I needed to get away and think about what was going to be the best thing for the both of us and our future.
“Remember, Mom, I know Aunt Sophie is family, but I’d rather not tell her about the money just yet. Let’s just enjoy our visit first. We can tell her later, just at the right time.”
“I’m not five, Coop,” my mom replied, rolling her eyes as we pulled up to an iron gate. It opened automatically and I slipped the car through, pulling up behind a shiny red BMW. “I won’t breathe a word until you say you’re ready to do so. I just want to visit with my sister.”
I exhaled a breath and climbed out of the car, hurrying to the other side to open the door for my mom. While the right thing to do would probably be to go ahead and tell Aunt Sophie about the money, I was holding back just a little. After everything Harold had said, I admit I was a little apprehensive about her reaction. I didn’t want a repeat of the sidewalk debacle or of the way Felix had reacted. Most of all, I didn’t want our visit to be overshadowed by the whole money situation.
Mom stepped out and patted my hand gratefully as we both looked up at the house for the first time, the structure dazzling in the bright California sun. Aunt Sophie had something to truly be proud of. With sloping roofs covered by Spanish roll tiles and large arching windows set along the front, the stucco house felt as if it were in the Mediterranean. Lush, green landscaping canvased the lawn ambling down to an exquisite view of the water below. It seemed as though the lawn just dropped off, so I wondered if there was an easy way to get to the water. My feet were itching to be buried in some California sand.
While Atlanta might be considered by many as being on the East Coast, we were nowhere near the beach back home. It was still several hours drive to get to the ocean and that still took money. Something we had never had an excess of. Now, I could smell the salt air and I couldn’t wait to take full advantage of this opportunity to relax. I was blown away by some of the houses we passed as we drove through Aunt Sophie’s neighborhood. Huge didn’t even begin to describe them, and they were no doubt extremely expensive. It was like stepping into an entirely different world from what we had left back home.
I glanced around once more as Mom rang the doorbell. The front door opened and my aunt emerged, her face adorned with smiles as she hurried out, grabbing my mom into a big hug and just rocking back and forth as she squeezed her petite arms around her sister. “Gillie! You’re here! I can’t believe it! I’ve waited so long for you to come out and now you have!”
Aunt Sophie didn’t seem to have changed a bit. She was exactly as I remembered, right down to the stylish bob that framed her smiling face. I couldn’t help but smile in response. I actually can’t recall Aunt Sophie ever looking sad; her eyes always seemed to be sparkling with some sort of mischief. Mom had told me a time or two that I inherited those same mischievous eyes.
“Oh, Fifi, it’s so good to see you,” Mom replied, tears in her eyes. Fifi was the nickname Mom had called her sister since they were little girls growing up in Georgia. I hadn’t really realized how much it must have affected my mom to be separated from her family. Sure, I had missed my aunt, but it couldn’t compare to the sibling bond they had. I’m an only child, so I guess I’ve never really given it much thought. I was quickly aware that this had been the right decision — even if there hadn’t been threats against us back home.
“You look lovely, Aunt Sophie,” I said just as the two women loosened their grasp on each other.
Aunt Sophie laughed and pulled away from Mom, her shining eyes turning toward me as she looked at me in mock disbelief. “This can’t possibly be little Cooper.”