Like Coming Home – An Excerpt from A Thousand Years

Here is an excerpt from A Thousand Years.

2003

Dearest Graham,

It is untamed. Wild and unplanned. I wake deep in thought, recalling the mornings in the Redwoods – the air cold and damp. There was nothing around but the untouched forest. Standing there, facing the west, I saw the Pacific resting between the hills – the brush wild and untamed. So perfectly beautiful and lonely. This is what it’s like to love you. On a day I least expected you, there you were. We are perfect partners. We think alike. But not. In that place in between, where we differ, you shine most.

There are more questions than answers. In the beauty of this wild thing, I long for you. What is and will not be follows me around like a coastal fog. Through the haze I see you. I don’t hold it against you – you can’t tame wild things. I live here in this tension, with what will not be, settling into the cold, wild – alone.

Yours Always,

Carolina

***

Present day

The long winding road to the house and the visit to Ragged Point, after my time in the city, were enough to clear my head. For now. When I get to the house, my sister Alejandra’s mini-van is in the driveway. I’m grateful she’s already brought Jackson home. I’m ready to see him now. But for the past 24 hours, I’ve been in a near state of panic over seeing him, as if he’d know. I pull into the garage and turn off the car, just as Jackson opens the door wide, excited to see me – if the smile on his face is any indication. He’s as sweet as pie that one. He waves and heads my way. I open the car door and hug my baby – my giant baby. I’m so grateful for this sweet boy. “Hey Bub,” I say. “I missed you so much. Did you have fun with Ali and the kids?”

“Yeah. It was kind of fun to hang out with them even though they’re too little to do really fun things. But I’m ready for the quiet again.”

“I’m glad you had fun. Are you hungry? I thought I could get cleaned up and we could go grab dinner at Deetjen’s. What do you think?”

“Oh. I’m going out. I can change plans though,” he says.

“Of course not. Just make sure you’re home early. What are you up to?”

“Surfing at Sand Dollar.”

“Go have fun. Do you want me to pick you up?”

“Nah. Casey’s sister is driving me home. Can you pop the trunk? I’ll get your bag.” he asks.

“You are the sweetest, Jackson Langston. Thank you,” I say, as a I pop the trunk of the car and head into the house. Jackson grabs my bag and climbs the stairs to my room. I walk through the mudroom, drop my purse and jacket, emotionally spent – slipping out of my shoes – while hoping that Ali doesn’t start peppering me with questions the second I walk inside. I open the Dutch door that leads into my kitchen.

“Welcome home!” Ali says, handing me a glass of wine, before I’ve even shut the door.

“Thanks. You’re the best,” I say, taking the glass. “How did everything go here?”

“Good. Great. He’s a good boy. You know that. The kids loved him staying over. It was a joy having an older kid around. Question is – how are you? How are things? Tell me all the news,” she says.

“Let’s wait until Jack leaves. Do you have time to have a drink on the deck?”

“Duh,” she says. “I told Charles he was on duty and to not expect me back very early.”

“You’re a saint. I have a lot to talk about.”

“I’m sure you do.”

***

A half-hour later, Ali and I are settled into two of my deck chairs, a second glass of wine poured, and a fire lit in my Chiminea nearby, as the fog slowly rolls in like a white blanket, toward the ranch and vineyard. “Tell me all the things,” she says.

“There’s much to say. I guess I’ll just start with the main thing. I’m definitely interested in buying -”

“Carolina Langston. That is not the main thing and you know it.”

“I tried to start at the easier point,” I say, smiling at my baby sister – knowing from the moment I arrived, I’d have to talk about Gray.

“Easiser smeasier. Talk, sista.”

“Yes. I saw him. We talked. He’s an older, slightly gray around the temples, version of the Graham I once knew.”

“So? I mean, how was it?”

“Like coming home,” I say.

***

The Bluefin is a seafood restaurant and wine bar with a stunning view of the city skyline and the Bay Bridge. It’s also a weird spot for us to meet, but on trend, Gray didn’t ask me where I’d like to go – nor did he read much about the restaurant, apparently. He texted me, about fifteen minutes ago, to tell me that he’d gotten us a table outside. I haven’t been this tied in knots for years. Before rounding the corner to face him, I take a deep breath and close my eyes. I lean against the side of the restaurant, offering a quick prayer to a God I doubt exists half the time. “Here goes nothing,” I whisper. I round the corner and as I imagined, he is steps away from me, his head in a menu, unaware I am there. Before saying a word, I watch him for a moment. He is as handsome as he was the day I watched him drive away from me – except now the years have weathered him. I take a deep breath and sigh, without meaning to, as I shift my purse on my shoulder. His eyes must catch a glimpse of me moving, because he looks up and our eyes meet. He puts the menu down on the table and his smile, the one I’ve loved for more than fifteen years, spreads across his face.

“Hi,” he says, standing.

I take a few steps and before I can pull the chair away from the table, he has bridged the distance between his chair and mine and opened his arms to me for a hug. “Hi,” I say, wanting to resist, but knowing I can’t. Our hug is brief and awkward. I sit down and have never been more grateful for an attentive server – who gives me a moment to recover. I can feel Graham’s eyes on me though. I question my sanity for agreeing to this.

“Can I start you with a glass of wine or cocktail,” the young server asks.

“I’ll have a glass of the Red Car Rose, please,” I say to her without needing the menu.

“Sure. Do you want to look at the menu for an appetizer or small plate? I am guessing you’ve been here before?”

“I have. Many times. Maybe the fish tacos? But if you can give us a few minutes, that would be awesome.”

“Sure. I’ll be back with your glass of Red Car,” she says. I can feel Graham’s eyes on me again. I take a deep breath.

“Hi,” he says again. “It’s so good to see you. Its been . . . what? How many years has it been?”

“Almost 14.”

“Doesn’t seem possible.” he says. “You haven’t aged at all. You look great.”

“Oh, please. I have aged. I feel ancient,” I say. “You look great, too by the way.”

“So now that we’ve settled that we both look great,” he says smiling, “Thank you for meeting me. I wasn’t sure if you were still in California until I ran into Lane a few weeks ago. I’m not sure if she explained, but I got orders back to North Carolina. We ran into each other and she filled me in on the missing years. I hope you don’t mind that I reached out. She said you wouldn’t.”

“Of course I don’t mind. I’m happy she did. You’re here for a wedding, right?”

“Yeah, an old friend is getting married – I’m the best man. The wedding is at Golden Gate Park. And I knew you lived on the coast, so I figured it was worth a shot. I would have been willing to come to you. You didn’t have to drive all this way.”

“It’s no big deal. I had business in the city anyway. Our wine is in restaurants all over – including this one and in bars all over the city. I’m here a couple of times a month, at least. I needed to stop by one of the wine stores. I’m actually thinking of buying it.”

“I hear that your Grandad’s winery is quite successful these days. I remember you talking about the dream of it, when we were – when we -”

“When we were dating? Is it that hard to say it?” I try to sound light, like I’m teasing. But I’m not. I try hard to push the hurt down. I didn’t think it would be so close to the surface of my heart, all these years later.

“Of course not,” he says. “I guess I was just stumbling over my words because I wanted to see you to -,” he pauses and looks down at his drink – probably whisky if he’s anything like he was all those years ago. “I wanted to apologize.”

“Oh,” I say. Not expecting us to go there so quickly. I take an unladylike swig of my rose, that the server had set down and by the looks on our faces, must have known she needed to scram – because she was out of there in a hot second. “Oh. I don’t, I mean – I guess I didn’t expect our conversation to take such a swift turn.”

“I never have had good timing,” he says, sounding sincere and a little embarrassed. “I’m sorry for dropping that on you.”

“It’s okay. I didn’t really know what you wanted to talk about. But I figured we’d at least have a little small talk first. I wasn’t really properly prepared for this particular conversation.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything. I’ve spent years regretting how I treated you at the end. You were such an important part of my life and I let you go in an instant – for what was truly no good reason. I hurt you.”

“You did. The worst pain I’ve ever experienced, actually. I appreciate the apology though, Gray.”

“I don’t even have a good explanation. Not now. From my vantage point, so close to retirement, I look back at my decisions and see how immature I was.”

“You were young. We both were. You did the best you could,” I say, feeling the weight of his apology knowing that this is a deeply layered conversation that I’m not really interested in having with him. Because if we go further, there’s more to say – that I’m not ready to say.”

Our server returns, filling my glass again without asking. She’s good. “Can I interest you in those tacos?”

“Eh. You choose. I’ll eat whatever you bring. Sound good?”

“Yes, ma’am. I know just the thing,” she says. And then continues, “Would you like me to bring the bottle?”

“Please. Thank you. And if you could, can you let Chef know that I’d like to see him before I leave – Carolina. Langston,” I say.

“I knew I recognized you, Ms. Langston. I’m sure he will be happy to know you’re here. I will let him know.”

“Thank you!” I say, cheerfully, hoping the shift in conversation is enough to break the spell of the sadness settling into my heart.

“You’ve always known literally everyone,” he says, shaking his head with a smile. “When we met I had no idea you were the Birdie Langston. Like everyone knew you – wherever we went. I don’t know how you do it. You still do it, apparently.”

“Well, this is a little different,” I say, as my ex-husband walks out of the restaurant we own together – and onto the patio.

“Hey love,” he says, as I stand. He embraces me in the bear hug Michael’s famous for.

“Hey,” I say as he releases me from a weirdly long hug. I don’t know how he knows – but he must. Probably Ali. “Michael – this is Graham Ford. Graham, this is Michael Turner – my ex-husband.”

“Nice to meet you,” Michael says, reaching for Gray’s outstretched hand. Michael is different from Gray in every way you can imagine. He’s a bear of a man, stocky, short compared to Gray, and muscular to Gray’s tall, lean and sinewy. Gray is a tri-athlete. Michael was a football player – playing in the pros for a few years before hanging up his helmet to settle into life as a family man. He is easily the best looking man I’ve ever laid eyes on. Tats cover his arms and his beard – that he’s famous for – and which he loved far more than he ever loved me, is a legend. But we are and always will be, in spite of the divorce, the best of friends.

“Nice-to-to meet you, too,” Gray says, obviously thrown off kilter. Thankfully.

“What did you order?” Michael asks.

“I told the server to surprise me. She’s good. And obviously new since she didn’t know who I was at first. You need to keep her around.”

“I plan on it,” he says, “I’m hoping she’ll stick around to take over the wine program. Should I send her over to you sometime soon?”

“Please do. How are you?”

“Good. Busy as usual. Grateful for that. I’ve been meaning to get down to see Jack, but you know how it is. Maybe I could come by next weekend? I’m taking a couple weeks off. But I could drive down before flying out.”

“You know he would love that,” I say to the man who did the best he could for us, until he couldn’t live any longer with the presence of Graham Ford around every corner of our marriage and life together.

“I’ll text you,” he says, as I nod my head. He turns to Graham, “Gray, I’ve heard a lot about you. It’s nice to finally meet you. Do me a favor?” he asks.

“Sure. What’s that?” Gray asks, likely not expecting the zinger I’m sure is coming.

“Whatever you’re here for, don’t hurt her,” he says, walking away. As he reaches the door of the restaurant, he gives me a slight wave and winks. That is the most confident man I’ve ever known. And I reduced him to a shell of himself because I could never love him fully – the way he deserves.

“I guess I deserved that,” Gray says, looking at his drink again.

“Yeah, you do. There are consequences for everything in life, I guess. And Michael paid the price every day of our marriage, for my inability to trust and love him the way he loved me. He’s a good man. He’s hot as hell. I don’t know why he’s still single. I keep trying to fix him up, but I’m sure he’ll find someone when it’s right for him.”

“When did you get married?” he asks.

“2005,” I say.

Gray nods his head. And then quietly says, what I already know, “I got married in 2002.”

“I know,” I say.

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