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.

Novel Progress

Recent weeks have been challenging on the writing front. But the novel inspiration has kicked back into high gear again, so I’m looking forward to spending time this weekend on getting through a huge portion of my remaining edits (for the second draft). I thought I’d share a notes on my novel progress.

1. I am continuing to post little vignettes and poems here on the blog that may (we’ll see) appear in the novel. I’m adding another page to my Fiction menu where they will all be located. Also, the photography I’m using can all be found on Pexels or Unsplash. This weekend, I’ll be tagging each photo with the photographer’s name and will add a category to catalog the photos. These are all royalty free and don’t require link backs. However, I feel like it’s necessary. I just wasn’t sure the best way to do it. My most recent was Your Eyes. The very first was Wild Things.

2. I have a Pinterest board that’s slowly taking shape, where I pin images that stir up inspiration. You can find it here. As a visual person, sometimes I just need a little more than what I conjure up in my head. I’ll be adding more to that soon, too! As a side note, I unexpectedly changed my protagonist’s ex-husband out for a new ex-husband (haha). And now I want to write a book about him (new ex-husband). “He” (or at least a little inspiration for his character) can be found in the first few photos of the board I just shared. He’s a chef. With a beard. And tattoos. He’s totally made up, but I wouldn’t hate meeting one of them. Haha.

3. I’ve previously shared the Spotify playlist for the novel. But I’ve been bouncing around a lot lately. If you’re on Spotify, I’d love to connect with you there. You can find my profile, here.

Random photo of a hot & bearded Dierks Bentley for no reason except I love dudes with beards (see below).

I just wanted to share a few quick notes. If you’re on Pinterest or Spotify, I’d love to connect with you.

Fiction Friday – Fix This

Here’s a quick excerpt for my work in progress, A Thousand Years.

My son cooked for me on the open fire – just like Michael had taught him from the time he was toddling around, following my ex-husband around everywhere. It was a perfect night, with a bit of a chill in the air – the fire kept us cozy. It was magic, like every other time we’d done this very thing. The Redwoods surrounding us and the distant sound of the ocean remind me of my good fortune. But just like the day that Gray came back into my life, I knew the magic of our lives in Big Sur would be over soon. I’d built up this safe little world for us here. We had our friends and our family and the constancy of the Pacific beating against the shore below our home. But it was only part of Jackson’s story. It was only part of mine. He had a whole other life out there. Along with a dad, half-siblings, and a longing to know his biological father. The longing was more intense than I ever truly realized until last week.

Michael had come to see us before leaving the country for some solo adventure – probably risking his life climbing some mountain somewhere. Our divorce, final for over two years now, had shocked everyone around us. We were quite the team. The chef husband and the vineyard owning wife – a duo that had taken the hospitality world by storm – beyond this wind beaten shore. It truly did shock everyone around us. Michael is a beautiful man. I mean, he’s beautiful to look at. But he’s also good and patient. And terribly kind. He’s one of the best men God’s ever made. He had his flaws. Don’t we all. He’d done the best he could for us though. It was never good enough for me. My friends thought I was insane when I asked him to move out. In only the way Michael can, he got it. I mean, he didn’t want to leave. He didn’t give up on us easily. But he’d settled into reality long before he actually moved out – maybe a year? In that year, we became roommates and best friends. Friends that shared a home, business and, raised a child. But friends just the same.

When he came over, before flying off to parts unknown, I knew Michael and Jackson would find some adventure to get into. After a hug and dropping off some food from the restaurant, he wandered out back with Jackson. They got in Michael’s Jeep and headed out. I knew they’d show up before dusk with fish or wild stories of finding some new waterfall or swimming in the freezing water of Castro Creek. And as expected, they did. They came home with fish and manly stories, smelling of the woods. Jackson hugged me when he came home and then wandered upstairs to watch TV. I stood with Michael while he cleaned the fish in our backyard, at the sink he’d installed when Jackson was a toddler. “Did you have fun?”

“Of course. We always do,” my ex-husband said, sounding more restrained than normal. My sense was, there was more.

“Is everything okay?” I ask.

“No,” he says, getting straight to the point, like he always does.

“Well don’t make me guess. What’s up?”

“Jackson figured out who is father is. I mean, he isn’t certain – but not five minutes into fishing he started talking. And the more he talked, the more he’d figured out.”

“He knows Gray is his father?”

“Yep. And the only thing saving you from your kid not hating you right now is that you’ve talked about his bio-dad his whole life. He knows how much you respect him and cared for him. But he’s angry, Birdie.”

“Why? What? How did -”

“Yeah, that. I mean, the two of them are spitting images. He knew that day Gray showed up here. He told me he didn’t know for sure until he heard you arguing with him on the porch. He said he listened at the door and couldn’t make out everything – but heard enough to think that there was a good chance.”

“And then Gray left.”

“And then Gray left. So as you can imagine, that sweet kid of yours is feeling a little lost and hurt. And rather than hurt you, he waited until he could talk to me about it.”

“Michael. My god. I’m sorry that you’ve been cleaning up after our mess for so long. Thank you for always being there for our boy.”

“You know I love him like he’s mine. I never, not for one second, want to know a life without that kid in it – some way, somehow. But he’s hurting now because Gray walked out and here we are three weeks later and you haven’t talked to him about it. As far as he knows, Gray’s gone forever.”

“I’m a horrible person,” I say.

“Not horrible. Just blind, sometimes,” he says. “I love you, Birdie. I always will. But you need to fix this before you lose that sweet kid. Promise me,” he says, turning off the water and turning to face me.

“I promise. I don’t deserve you. I’m so grateful you’re still here, in spite of what a shitty partner I was.”

“You weren’t a shitty partner. Don’t be dramatic. You just didn’t love me, like I loved you.”

“Oh yeah. Just that little thing. Thank you for coming over. You are the best.”

“I am. Truly.”

“Let me know when you’re home safe?” I ask, as he finishes up and hands me a platter of freshly caught fish.

“Of course.” He washes his hands with the soap I keep under the sink. The way he moves reminds me of how long we shared a life. I know his every step.

“Thank you for everything.”

“You’re welcome, Birdie,” he says, drying his hands on the towel I brought out for him. He sets it on the counter of the old vintage sink we’d found at an estate sale in Morro Bay, right after we got married. “I love you,” he says, as he brotherly side hugs me on his way out. His eyes tell me he’s not yet moved on. I ache that I can’t be the wife to him that I longed to be.

“I love you, too,” I say. Michael walks down the long sidewalk that leads out to our carport. I watch him as he goes and wonder how I ever deserved being loved by him. I’m grateful he walked alongside us for so long. He loves my boy and that alone is more than I can repay.

My Heart is a Liar

tyler knott gregson, elaina avalos, twin souls, a thousand years

My heart is a liar. Sometimes. Sometimes she’s just a little confused. I run through every moment. I relive what has been said, what has been left unspoken, and the little things that mean more to me than they probably should. Someday, when I look back on this time in my life, I know it will be without you.

I woke today with a memory of us standing in a room – your eyes on me. The question you asked, the tone of your voice, the way you looked at me – and then your response – it all spun this comfortable little web of hopes around me. Spider webs are quite lovely when you take a good long look at them. They’re lacey art – spun & wound and when the dew and rain hit just right, they sparkle in the light. These shiny sparkling moments, especially in the early morning hours, eventually give way to reality once again.

As the day has worn on, the warm memory from this morning, is replaced – because my heart is a liar. I may be here because you opened the door, but I stayed because sometimes I don’t know what’s best for me. Where does waiting get me?

I will wake up five years from now – with you there & me here, wishing it was you with your arms around me.

Halfway There – a Novel in Progress!

NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo 2020, Elaina Avalos

Yesterday, I wrote 2,434 words bringing me to a total of 26,002 words. I’m halfway there! While I think the novel will be over 50,000 words – the goal for NaNoWriMo is 50,000.

I have to say – I will never again return to writing the old way. My first draft is a first draft through and through. As I go, I think of things I’d like to change and make notes for the 2nd or 3rd drafts. I’m getting the overall story “on paper” without touching what I’ve written, with the hope of going back in on the second draft adding more description and some of the writing that I most love to do – to make my characters and locations come alive.

When I wrote Chasing Hope it took me ages (and ages). I’m my own worst critic. I wrote, deleted, wrote some more. Deleted. Edited. Over and over the pattern went. It took me so long. And it’s still not the book I want it to be. I plan on re-writing it someday.

The other thing that slows me down is that I will find myself going down a research rabbit hole when there’s something I need to learn more about, a house I have in mind – as my protagonist’s house, etc. I have tried to reduce that significantly this time. A few evenings ago, I was halfway to my daily word count goal and spent a little time on research. Last night, after I’d reached my goal, I did a little more.

My plan is to spend more time on that for the second draft. Although not exactly research, another issue that needs updating in subsequent drafts is that my timeline is allll jacked up because I’m changing things as I go – as the story makes more sense and comes into greater focus. The main characters both have children. I want the kids to all be younger now that I’ve started working on it, for instance. So that’s one reason my timing is jacked. Part of what will need to be worked out is just that – when I truly want to start this story, how long I want my protagonist to be apart from her love interest, and therefore how old the kids are when the novel begins.

I’m excited to have gotten so far, so quickly. For me, this is a huge deal. I’m celebrating today with Carolina Panthers football, a mimosa, and yeah – writing.