Authors: Kristen Kehoe
Tags: #Romance, #Love, #New Adult, #College, #changing POV
She nods and leans over to read it. “Total overhaul, huh? I’ve been there. It can be messy.”
“I think tonight proved messy is relative.”
“Touché.” Her eyes scan for a second longer before she nods. “Come on, we’re going out,” she says, standing. I watch her slip on her Birks again and grab her keys.
I glance at my computer screen. “It’s almost ten o’clock at night. And I’m in my pajamas.”
A glance at my outfit and she dismisses my claim. “News flash: you’re also in college.
Almost ten o’clock
means things are just getting started.” She nods her head toward the door. “Let’s take care of number four, Red. Let’s go get some real cake.”
The Oceanbeach skate park is full of gawkers and getting fuller by the minute. Someone—either Mal or Hunter, or one of their PR reps—released a tweet about thirty minutes ago, letting the greater San Diego area know that they’d be here for the next two hours. Since they’re both professionals, home from touring for a brief moment, and it’s Sunday—a day when most people are free—mayhem is sure to ensue. For now, though, with only fifty or so people lined up to take pictures, Malcolm and I sit on the ledge together, sharing a Gatorade while we watch Hunter do some flip-kicks and 360s.
Vert and street skate are their chosen categories, Mal more comfortable in the long, high jump than the closed-in ramps and rails of a skate park that calls to Hunter. Since the skate parks and boardwalk are where they both started learning the board that became their life, they always give a show when they’re home. Today’s show hasn’t fully begun, though the word is definitely spreading. Malcolm Brady and Hunter Jackson went pro at sixteen, finishing high school online as they toured the US, and the rest of the world, ranked as two of the top skaters in their respective categories. Six years later, they’re both at the top, constantly battling to stay there.
They’ve been my best friends since we all arrived at Mission Bay Senior High School eight years ago as fourteen-year-old boys with something to prove. I beat the shit out of Hunter for calling me a dumb jock, and Malcolm did his best to beat the shit out of me in return, as they were already friends. It was the closest I’ve ever come to being handed my ass by someone smaller than me, and the respect I owed him was given.
We’ve been friends since, becoming closer as we realized our lives, though different, were also painfully similar. We’re all older brothers, all one-parent children; though the reasons and ways our fathers left, vary. Beyond that, we all had one burning desire: to make something of ourselves, and become more than the beach bums the system said we were destined to be.
Hunter and Mal achieved this earlier than me, both owning more than one X Games title before the age of twenty-one. Approaching twenty-three, I’m building that life, too, even when it feels like parts out of my control are circling the drain.
Hunter throws a trick as he skims over the ramp and Malcolm laughs when the board sails away from him. “He’s lucky he’s got a pretty face.”
Despite the failed trick, flashes go off and people shout Hunter’s name hoping to catch a better angle for their photo. I have my zoom lens with me, ready to be attached to my phone. So far, it’s unused. I don’t know if I’ll change that or not, but I want to—definite progress.
I watch Hunter throw and land a small aerial and wave to the crowd. They go nuts. “Why is he staying in San Diego instead of doing the circuit this fall?”
Mal shrugs. “Jacks has his reasons. He’s been pro for almost six years—it’s not uncommon to take time off, work on some tricks, give the body a break from the falls and do some endorsements.” Then he looks at me. “Sometimes, shit needs to be taken care of and the only way to do it is to stay in one place.”
I nod. Like me, Hunter has his own family issues. I don’t travel—no matter how hard the urge inside of me pounds to run, to put my truck in drive and head any direction but west and just fucking
. I don’t, because Ashton’s here, and leaving San Diego means leaving her. I can’t do that, not now. Maybe not ever.
Hunter’s little sister is about to graduate, and his mom just remarried. It might be that, it might be something else. Bottom line, he’ll stay as long as he needs to until whatever’s holding him back is no longer an issue. Just like Mal stayed when he was fifteen, cared for his dying dad when his mom took his step-sister and ran off.
Life’s not picky about who she slaps; sometimes she hits hard, sometimes she just swats us, teases us, gives us a second to believe we may really have a chance at something great. And then she hits us again, harder, knocking us off course and forcing us to examine whether we should even bother to try again.
The hit isn’t avoidable—I’ve learned that. It’s what we do in between blows that makes life worth it.
Mal gets rid of his Gatorade and lets his board slide down, jumping in after it. Soon, both he and Hunter are cruising up and down rails, giving the crowd the show they came for. I’ve always been on the sidelines taking photos, storing memories and images. My extra-large frame is far more suited to a paddleboard than a skateboard.
The first piece of art I sold was created with the two of them in it—Mal in the middle of a heavy crash that broke his clavicle and humerus, Hunter running toward him. I hollowed their images out—left them stark-black outlines—used highlights and grated material for the surrounding world screaming around them.
The title was
Mal bought it for just over two grand. Six months later, I had my first showing and became a fulltime artist when every single one of the twelve pieces used for the show sold. Multimedia art is a rising star; with Mal’s promotion, I began to rise with it.
Until three months ago—when every photo I took felt the same; no matter where I went or what I saw, every piece I tried to create came out wrong. There hasn’t been a title, a word, a feeling I could grasp onto in the past ninety-plus days. They’re all just sad, unhappy.
Ignoring the voice in my head that tells me it’s because
, I scan the crowd and think of taking my camera out after all. Nothing’s calling to me, but focusing on the light, a face, anything, might just do the trick of emptying my head out.
That’s when I spot her—the golden-red hair with hints toward brown, the tidy outfit of pleated shorts in black, a white-and-black striped top with lace at the bottom stopping at her narrow waist. She turns slightly to talk to the beach bunny next to her, and my eyes shift with her movement. A quick glance and nothing more—until my eyes veer back to the petite blonde.
Nala Jansen, my sister’s best friend from way back, rolls her eyes at the Stepford Wife and continues studying Mal and Hunter as they ride.
“I think I’m overdressed.”
“That can’t be a new thing for you.”
I give Nala a wry smile. I’m wearing black linen shorts and lace waist tee, paired with my Valentino Rock Stud sandals and minimal jewelry. My cross-body purse is also Valentino, a perfect match to my sandals.
It’s my casual wear. Compared to Nala and every other person around me, I look like I’m going to a job interview. Cutoffs, tank tops, and board shorts abound. Showers appear to be optional. Every now and then, the wind blows, and the scent of the marina along with body odor permeates my nostrils.
Last night, Nala and I shared a piece of pie from an all-night diner. If I thought bread was the nectar of the gods, this pie was the love child of bread and fruit—a creation so gooey and tart it melted in my mouth. This morning, she arrived back to our room from her morning trip to the beach with a bag of bagels that were still warm. We sat and ate, and then she invited me to a local skateboarding event.
My parents have left. I know this because I received a scathing message—pre eight o’clock—informing me there was an emergency at home my father had to attend to, and cutting their planned day with Mason and me short. The end told me exactly what I knew it would:
Your father and I are shocked by your behavior last night, Jordana. Those were not the actions of someone grown up, as you claim to be. Can you see now why we didn’t let you go across the country?
, I wanted to write back.
That never would have happened if you had just let me pick my school
. But, I did not do that. Instead, I read the rest of the message, writing down the address of the dry cleaner where I am instructed to pick my brother’s clothes up.
“Why are we here again?”
“Experience, excitement. Local color.” Nala shrugs. “I’m thinking your first paddleboard lesson should be tomorrow.”
“You’re really into this list,” I say. And then I remind her, “Tomorrow is the first day of school.”
“Damn straight, I’m into the list. So are you. We can go early. What time is your first class?”
The crowd cheers as a second skateboarder joins the first. They are now zigzagging around the steep walls, each flying a little higher when they hit a side, grabbing the bottom of their board, sometimes doing a turn in the air.
“We can go before then. Or, if you’re not a morning person, we can go later. When do you end class?”
Now she looks at me. “Either time works. I still can’t believe you’re from L.A. and you’ve never been paddleboarding. You have beaches there, too.”
“I know. I’m horrified. I don’t know how I got into college without having this skill.”
Nala shakes her head in amusement and turns back to the skateboarders. “I just meant, what did you do for fun? Or are you one of those rich kids who’s gone to private school their whole life, only partaking in activities that were healthy for building your résumé?”
I watch the skateboarders, their tricks getting bigger, the crowd getting louder. My non answer has Nala whistling. “I guess the list makes more sense now. There’s more to learning than being in a classroom, Red. Take, for example, the fact that you come from some filthy rich, college prep, my-child-is-going-to-one-day-rule-the-world high school, and I come from a public high school. You probably spent the last four years proving you could save the world, while I graduated from high school a year ago and took a year off to travel and live. Yet, here we both are, at the same place,” she adds.
I don’t tell her she’s only partly right. I
here, and I did go to a well-known, expensive, elite high school. Most of my résumé reads exactly as she insinuated: student council, internships, summers abroad, exchange programs, charity projects. But it also reads with over a 4.2 GPA and nine advanced placement courses; it shows my interest is not in receiving a glorified MRS degree, but an actual degree that would allow me to be a person. My own person.
USD was never the experience I was supposed to have. I wanted to be at Yale or Princeton, Vanderbilt or Fordham. It’s on the tip of my tongue to admit to her I didn’t choose this school—that I shouldn’t even be at this school—but I’m afraid it will make me look snotty. Or worse, pathetic.
Poor rich girl, she goes to a beautiful private university where she has everything paid for. Boo-hoo.
The thing is, though, the scholarship I got to attend here isn’t mine—it’s my parents’. The scholarships and admissions I received from those schools, though—the top rated schools in the nation—
those are mine
Growing up—the entire time I was following my mother’s orders on who to hang out with and what to study, how to dress, and what committees and clubs to join—I was secretly harboring my own dream, one which included getting out and learning something other than what I had always known. Years of placating her and my father were all served with one specific purpose in mind: to go somewhere else—to see something else.
To be someone else.
And then my parents did what they do best—they thought of Mason and the family, of what it would look like if I went to an Ivy League school and he was still in California at a private school. A good school, but not the best school. Not like my school.
My acceptance was sent that day, a little over five months ago, and I’m still in the sunshine state—not abroad or back east. I’m studying elementary education, not computers and mathematics, and I’m preparing to be someone’s wife.
I think I might be sick.
Nala’s hand is on my arm. I look at her, my vision wavering before it focuses. “You look like you’re going to be sick.”
I shake my head, but I let her hold onto me for a second because I’m not entirely sure I won’t be ill. The feeling I had last night and this morning is back, the one that says I have to get out
, or I’m going to suffocate. Placating with the hope of someday breaking free is no longer an option.
“Probably just hungry,” I say. “I’m in for paddleboarding tomorrow. I would rather go early.”
She watches me for another second. Something in her eyes tells me she isn’t quite convinced it’s hunger that is making me shake, but she doesn’t push. She nods before releasing my arm. “Okay, we’ll go before class. Six o’clock okay?” I nod. “Do you want to go? You’re still really pale,” she says.
“I’m fine. I promise. Now, tell me why everyone is yelling. What’s so impressive that these two are doing?” We turn back to the show and I watch as the smaller of the two men sails over a steep incline, his body crouched, hand holding the board.
“Know anything about skateboarding?” My look says it all. “I didn’t think so. Malcolm Brady and Hunter Jackson. Local heroes—best friends who made it big in the pro-skate world. Pro at sixteen, major titles before eighteen, a couple of X Games titles between them before twenty.” The taller skater, with armloads of intricate tattoos, skims over an edge, his body effortlessly swaying with the board. The crowd screams when he rolls up the other side of the wall and pauses on the ledge there.