Jade

Heisler Park, Heisler Park Laguna Beach, Sea Glass, Elaina Avalos, Elaina M. Avalos

Heisler Park – Laguna Beach

Here’s an excerpt from the novel I’m starting to work on this month (Sea Glass Hearts)
and hope to finish in the next eight weeks!

On Saturday afternoon, my Realtor and/or fan girl, Tally, sent me a text message to remind me about the concert at Joe’s. I knew I needed to go. But I spent hours after, convinced it was one of my dumbest ideas yet. I’ve had so many. It’s getting harder and harder to track them. The thing about me is that I know myself well. I knew that if I replied and told her I’d be there, I would – even if I tortured myself all day, filling my day with anxiety and worry. So I replied, five minutes after I read it. “I’ll be there,” I said.

When I was a little girl, I moved from foster home to foster home – never staying anywhere very long. My story isn’t all the unique. There’s almost a half a million just like me, all over this vast country. My belongings were stuffed into a black trash bag each time I moved. I carried it from house to house – until I was five that is. I got my own luggage then, when one foster mom, who had to disrupt the placement because she got cancer, bought me a duffel bag set. I guess she felt bad. I don’t know. I lived with her for nine months. I liked her. I called her mom. She was the first one I called mom. I never called anyone mom, ever again. Not even the woman who adopted me at 16. Most of what I came into foster care with had disappeared over time – except two things. When I entered care, I had a necklace on – it was a little too much for my three-year-old self. I also had a letter, if you can call it that, that my mom had stuffed into my purse. I didn’t know about the letter until I was much older. But I wore the necklace the day my Mom told me to sit on a bench in Heisler Park, near a cliff over looking the Pacific. She said she wanted to buy us ice cream. She never came back. I barely remember her face. She walked away – her hair, blond and wavy, reached her waist. When I was older, I saw a photo of Stevie Nicks circa 1977, in a scrapbook, in one of my foster parent’s homes. I asked, “Who is this lady?”

“That,” my foster mom said, “is the great Stevie Nicks. She’s a singer. One of the best to ever live,” she said.

I replied, barely audible, “Oh. Maybe she’s my mom.” As far as I could tell, she was as close a person had ever come to looking like her. The day she left me in the park, she wore a long flowing white dress, with a lace duster. Most of the time even still, even though I know now what she looks like, I still picture her blond, tangly curls and her white flowy clothes, as she left, instead of her face. Since that’s the last thing I saw, I guess the trauma of it all has kept that memory burned into my consciousness.

When my mom told me we were going to the park, I could not have been more excited. As always, I lived for the adventures we went on, especially after we were homeless. I mean, I didn’t know we were homeless. I just loved camping. We slept in the canyons and near the beach, moving when necessary. I loved sleeping in the campgrounds in Orange County – with their oak trees and sycamores. Their branches created cool shapes in the soft orange glow of the campground lights. When we had to leave a campground, we would sleep near the rich people beaches and then find our way back to another campsite. The day I bought my house in the hills above Laguna, just blocks from the park bench where she abandoned me, I thought I’d finally arrived. Maybe I did? The problem was, I didn’t have any real sense of victory though I’d hoped and prayed it would feel that way.

When we left Trabuco Canyon, we were in Dwayne’s car. He was her boyfriend. At least one that had been around for a little longer than the others. There were lots of them. I’d never forgotten his first name – though my trauma prevented me from even remembering my mom’s full name. Dwayne drove us down the winding canyon roads to Laguna, with the windows down and classic rock blaring. When we sat down on the bench, I had a small bag with me. I called it my purse. She said, as she got up, “You hold that purse tight and don’t let go, okay?” That wouldn’t be a problem because I carried it with me everywhere I went. I was eventually picked up by the police and taken to the social services agency in the city of Orange, I didn’t know what they’d found in there. They kept it with my file until I was old enough to really talk with my caseworkers. What they’d found didn’t help me understand. It didn’t help me grasp why she’d left me there. I didn’t know my story. I didn’t know from her scribbled and cryptic words, why. I didn’t know who she was or where she came from. What I knew for sure? She may not have ever been in her right mind. Her words were jumbled nonsense. I know her first name, Willow. But beyond that and her tangled mess of curls and flowing dress, I don’t know her story – or mine.

In the letter, she wrote, in one long run-on sentence, the sea is carrying me away i tried to stay above the surface for her but the current is carrying me away she needs you more than she needs me. And then, here she is my mermaid child I have to return now. Who knows what in the actual hell she meant. She scribbled numbers on the back of the note. I always dreamed as a pre-teen, once they’d handed over her letter to me – as if it wasn’t mine in the first place, that maybe I’d find some meaning in the numbers. But all these years later, based on everything else I’ve uncovered in the intervening years, there’s no meaning to them. There is one other thing she wrote on the back of the note, I’m still certain it is a piece of the puzzle that will make sense someday. She wrote one word, and then underlined it many times, creating creases in the paper. The creases made reading her note on the front side, harder. The word? Jade. Now that I’m here, in the place that birthed both of us, I hope to understand.

As for the other thing I was left with – my necklace – it’s a small piece of turquoise sea glass – with a small mother of pearl dangling alongside it. I’ve lived in some rough places over the years. But I hung on to that necklace like it was a part of my own body – like one of my arms or legs. When I was 12, I got kicked out of a foster home for beating up my foster sister. She’d tried to take the necklace from me. It didn’t matter to my foster parents. They didn’t care that it was all I had of her. They sent me back to social services like I was a shirt you’d return because it doesn’t fit. I don’t wear the necklace much anymore. But it’s always with me. It will never not be with me.

As I got dressed for Joe’s, I thought long and hard about the necklace. I stared at myself in my full length mirror. My brown hair is piled on my head with curly wisps of unruly locks falling all around my face, emboldened to be wilder than usual, in the humidity of a Carolina summer. The easy choice would be to slip it into my purse, where I usually kept it – when it didn’t fit the moment. But today felt dangerous, in an entirely enticing way. I have an entire family in this beach side town. And not a damn one of them tried to find me. Chew on that for a minute. The scrappy twelve year old in me, that beat up the sweet church kid when she tried to steal her necklace, is the one that raised an eyebrow, grabbed that necklace off the dresser, and put it on. I knew, in that moment, there’d be no turning back.

#

Joe’s was quite the scene. Situated at the end of the boardwalk, it sat in a mostly residential part of the town which explains, in part, why it may not have been frequented by the tourists – who probably stuck to the section of town that was easy walking distance from the handful of hotels and Bed and Breakfasts that lined the strip along the boardwalk – all leading to the fishing pier. The pier, as I’d discovered on my first very long walk, jutted out into the Atlantic in, what I am certain is a taunting and enticing way, for the hurricane season. Yet, it still stands – defying Mother Nature in a way I can respect.

When I was two houses down from Joe’s, I stopped. The Beach Music floated up above the crashing waves. When I did my research about Seaside – which as an author is way more fun than writing – I learned a lot about the Beach Music culture of the Carolinas. When you grow up in the coarse sand of Newport and Huntington Beach, in the 80s and 90s, beach music is U2, Jesus Jones, and Depeche Mode. Or basically anything that’s playing on “The World Famous KROQ.” When I finally traced my origins back to the strip of barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, I learned everything I could, including how drastically different beach culture here can be from the only home I’d ever known. Beach music, as I’d soon learn, was deeply rooted in R&B. This blew my mind. As the music wafted up into the air, along with the intoxicating scent of what I imagine is mouth watering local seafood, I needed a second to gather myself.

Before I open my eyes, Tally’s voice reaches me. In spite of her loud appearance, her voice and deep Carolina drawl are about as soothing as a voice can be – as if she speaks in songs and poetry. I adore it – but promise myself not to let her know she’s my new best friend. “There you are! I started to worry you’d changed your mind,” she said, as she rushes to my side, looping her arm through mine. Like the day I’d met her in person for the first time, she is wearing bright, almost fluorescent colors and jewelry that might as well have been bigger than her head. She is a tiny little thing. Which I suppose makes her presence, bright clothing, and huge jewelry, particularly charming. Or jarring. One of those. “You look divine,” she says. “You could charm the dew right off the honeysuckle.” I stifle my laugh until she says, “Don’t try to pretend you didn’t just mentally write that in your little author notebook. I know that’ll show up someday in a novel. I’m downright full of this bullshit. I’ll warn you before I throw one out that I really want you to remember though,” she says, as she steers me to Joe’s, as if I have no say in the matter.

She pulls me along until we reach what might as well be her throne high atop the Tally Court – a rickety outdoor couch – surrounded by a group of her courtiers. She introduces me, as she motions for me to have a seat with a sway of her arm, “This – this my friends – is a true celebrity right here. This is Allison Whiting! Can you believe it? In Seaside!” I don’t even bother stifling a laugh this time. Tally pats my hand, like I’m a pet. “Just ignore her, she doesn’t quite understand who she is,” she says. Truer words have never been uttered about me.

A chorus of welcomes and nice to meet yous, meet me as I smile my best fake smile. It’s the one I use when I sign books for hours on end and when the talk shows act interested in my latest book – even though they really don’t care a wit about a single thing I write. “Thank you for the warm welcome. So what should I order? Tell me all the things about the food and drinks,” I say, hoping to quickly distract from the embarrassing introduction.

“Easy,” a man, with a bushy grey beard and the reddest cheeks I’ve ever seen, says, “Shrimp burger. Get the shrimp burger. It’s an Eastern Carolina tradition,” he says, to the agreement of the rest of the crew.

“Well shrimp burger it is,” I say.

Tally whispers in my ear, “They don’t come to us. You have to go to the bar to order. They don’t take cards, by the way. Cash only.”

“Well that’s quaint,” I say.

“I’ll try not to be insulted by that,” Tally says, winking. “Go get you some food and an adult beverage and come on back. By the way, as soon as I find your neighbors, I’ll make the intro.”

“Thanks,” I say, with a thumbs up, as the heat rises in my face. If there were more lights on around here, I’d probably be red as a beet. Honestly, I might as well be on fire, as the anxiety takes over. I walk across the bar, packed with people, keeping an eye out for my grandparents as I go. I’m certain I’ll know them when I see them. The first photo I’d found of them on the Internet, from a local charity event, is old – twenty years, at least. But I have another, from the Seaside fishing tournament, maybe ten years after that. That one gets me a little closer to what they probably look like now. I’ve studied both photos for hours upon hours, hoping to find myself in them and preparing for the day I show up on their doorstep.

When I finally get through the wait at the bar, I sit at a newly opened barstool and wait for the bartender to maker her way to me. I take in the place, watching everyone. If there was a job description for writers – people-watching would be a requirement. I’m instantly overwhelmed at the thought that people in this room could be related to me.

When I turned 16, my last set of foster parents, adopted me. The Russell family will always have my deepest gratitude. I love them dearly. Mama Russell – what I still call her to do this day – never tried for one second to convince me to give up my dreams of finding my family. Nor did she make me try to fit into theirs – as if I’d somehow forget I likely had an entire family out there somewhere. She seemed to understand this need in me. She never pressured me. I will always love her, even though I’ve never been able to call her, “Mom,” as I’m sure she’s always wished. I expect, if I should ever get free from the trauma that is my childhood and marry – it will be Bo Russell that walks me down the aisle – with Mama Russell there in the front row. They were good to me. They are the best kind of people God makes, if God exists, that is.

Perhaps unfortunately, blood and the ties that bind us, are stronger. My foster care agency used to say that family is more than blood. It is. It truly is. But maybe only those who are left alone in the world, without clear ties to their past, understand how desperately we long for connection to those who share our DNA. In the midst of my introspection, in this noisy bar, someone taps me on the shoulder. I look to my right, in the direction of the tap. The guy next to me is pointing toward the bartender – who I now realize is standing in front of me, staring at me like I’ve got two heads.

Who knows how long she’s stood there. Her hair is bright purple and her arms are covered with tattoos. She’s wearing the shortest skirt I have ever seen and her shirt is cut way too low. She’s not subtle. I notice in a flash, as I size her up, that she has a scar on her wrist and what looks like a burn mark just above it. “I’m sorry,” I say.

“Well what do you want?” she asks, apparently annoyed.

“I’ll take a shrimp burger and bourbon on the rocks,” I say.

“What side, hon?”

“Oh. I don’t know. What do you have?” I ask, what I think is a seemingly innocent question.

“You’re not from around here, are you?”

“No, dude,” I say. “What was your first guess?” I ask, my famous attitude making its first appearance, since I arrived in North Carolina.

She raises her right eyebrow. From the looks of her, I’d guess her and I could go a couple of rounds out back. She’s probably fought off some meth heads and abusive boyfriends in her day. In other words, she’s just like me – but you can’t see my tats or scars. “I like you,” she says. “We’ve got slaw, fries, or our world famous mac and cheese. We’ve got a partial menu at night in the summer. Makes things easier on Joe. What can I get you?”

“I’ll take the mac and cheese,” I say.

“Good call. Can I get your name for your order?”

“Sure. It’s Ellison. Ellison Whiting.”

She stops mid-reach, before taking the twenty-dollar bill I’ve handed her. “Ellison, eh?”

“Yes.”

“Interesting. We have a bunch of Ellisons down here. They’re everywhere. Kind of like sand fleas. Sadly, my mama is an Ellison.”

“I’m from Orange County, California,” I say. She raises that eyebrow at me again. She’s skeptical. I like her.

“Well wherever the hell you’re from, welcome. I’ll have your drink in a minute and someone will bring your food to your table. I saw you come in with Tally.”

“Thanks,” I say. I fully notice as I do, the gentlemen next to me, though he’s picking at the label on his beer bottle, he’s been watching me the whole time. From my peripheral vision, he smiles. He’s been following my every move. I turn to face him. “Appreciate the tap,” I say. I was just remembering all of the things I need at the grocery store,” I say – hand out stretched. He takes my hand.

“Ryan,” he says, extending his hand out to meet mine. “California, eh? What are you doing out here?”

I don’t detect even the slightest of accents – which I’ve so far heard from most everyone I’ve met the last few days. “Nice to meet you, Ryan. And, yep -California. Most recently Napa. But I spent most of my life in Southern California.”

“I lived there for big chunks of my life. San Diego. Great town.”

“It is. Friendly city – compared to the rest of SoCal anyway. What were you doing out there?”

“Marine Corps and Navy. Navy parents – Marines for me. Spent my enlistment at Pendleton.”

“Gotcha. Are you originally from Seaside? Or close by?” I ask, taking a second to study his weathered face. His trucker’s ball cap sits over a mess of unruly blond hair. It’s long enough that you’d never guess he’s ex-military. I bet you one thousand actual bucks that he surfs and has a half-pipe in his backyard.

“I’m from a little of everywhere,” he says, looking back to his bottle and peeling at it a little more. “Like I said. I was a military brat. We lived all over. But my most formative years were California and Hawaii. Hawaii will probably always be home.”

“Nice. Not a bad place to be from,” I say.

“True story. I’ve called Seaside my permanent home for the last ten years or so, though.”

“Do you like it here?”

“I do. I own a little place up the boardwalk. Plus, I can surf, hike the mountains within a five-hour drive, fish, or backpack in the middle of nowhere here on the coastal plain. It’s an outdoor man’s paradise, if you ask me. Plus, they don’t care if you put up a – gone fishing or surfing sign – on your door.”

“Sounds like my kind of place.”

“What brings you to our little perfect slice of the Southern Outer Banks?” He turns to face me. He smiles for the first time – deep dimples instantly make him endearing. His eyes are deep brown. I’m suddenly reminded of how much I love a man with brown eyes.

“Research,” I say, trying to sound mysterious, but realizing after I say it, I just sound lame.

“What kind of research?” he asks.

“Book research,” pleasantly surprised that he’s the second person tonight that doesn’t know who I am.

“You’re a writer?”

“I am. I write fiction. I have a book to write – so here I am.”

“If there’s anything I can help you with, let me know. I own the inn on the opposite end of the strip. I’m right on the water. You can’t miss us. I run a small diner from the ground floor. It’s a good place to write – with views of the shoals and the wild horses. Stop by sometime. I’ll save you a table. When you write the great American novel, I’ll put a placard with your name on it,” he says. I find the fact that he has no idea who I am, endearing. He continues, “Like I said, let me know if I can help with anything,” he says, as the bartender slides my drink down the bar – from the opposite end. She’s a cheeky thing. I reach out and catch it before it collides with the Old Fashioned my bar-neighbor is nursing.

“Good catch, babe,” she says.

“Well thanks. What was your name by the way?”

“Jade,” she says. “Jade Willis.” I choke as a I take a sip.

 “You alright?” she asks.

“Yep. I’m just terribly awkward. Beautiful drink,” I say to her. Though just a bourbon on the rocks, she’s twisted a candied orange peel and if my nose doesn’t betray me, I’m guessing she rimmed the glass with orange, too.

“Thanks. Enjoy. We’ll have the shrimp burger out to you in just a bit,” she says, quickly turning her attention to another customer.

“Well, Ryan – I should probably return to Tally and her buddies or I will never live it down. Thank you for the offer about writing at your place. I just might do that – especially if you have some good local atmosphere for me to soak in.”

“Oh that we do. It was nice to meet you, Ellison.” he says as I stand to my feet. I stumble a little – as if I had more than a few drinks. It’s not the first sip of my drink. It’s the realization that I’ve just met a woman named Jade, in a little bar, in my hometown – a place I’ve never known or seen before. Ryan reaches out to steady me.

“You okay?” he asks.

“I’m good. Thanks. I just got up too fast,” I say. “Thanks again,” I say, as I quickly make my way out of the packed bar, toward Tally. I’ve opened the door now. I can’t turn back. Either I’m leaving this place with answers or I’ll die trying.

Purchase print, here.

Ready to Find Out – More from A Thousand Years

winery, wine, Jim Harris Photography

Here’s a little diddy from A Thousand Years. . .

I didn’t ask the hot football player out. And he didn’t ask me out either. I was a little confused. But then again, I’m not exactly batting a thousand in the dating department, so I chalked it up to harmless flirtation. And then, a few weeks after our opening, on another Saturday we were open to the public, Nolan returned. I was about to give a tour of the winery when he showed up, looking hot as hot as he had the day of the opening. As sometimes happens, in the chaos that is a family run business and being a single parent, Jackson ended up with me in spite of the fact that I was working. Nolan jogged over to my tour, after my Granddad pointed him in my direction. I smiled, because I couldn’t help myself. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if I blushed too. He is quite the sight. All 6’4 of him. He is so very different than Gray. Gray is lean and average in height. He is fair-skinned, with the prettiest blue eyes I have ever seen. Nolan has dark brown hair and the deeply brown, warm eyes. He’s also got a pretty magnificent beard. And though I couldn’t tell the night we met, today – his white collared, long sleeved shirt sleeves are rolled up, exposing an arm full of tattoos on both arms.

“You got room for one more?” he asked.

“If you’re willing to babysit,” I say, mostly joking.

“Sure thing,” he says, making his way toward me from the edge of the crowd. He puts his hands out to Jackson and without hesitation, Jackson goes to Nolan excitedly. I’m a little jealous actually.
Throughout the tour, Nolan and Jackson stay close. I’m not going to lie – watching my son with a man – someone other than family or the men on the ranch – who I’ve known my whole life – is an experience I didn’t know I’d need to prepare myself for. I’m oddly emotional. I stuff the feelings and we finish the tour in the tasting room where I ask one of our tasting room staff to take over.

“Do you want to join the tasting?” I ask Nolan.

“No. I came to see you. I wandered off the night we met and lost you in the crowd somewhere around the time the fireworks started. I had every intention of asking you out to dinner. I’ve had some work obligations the last couple of weeks so this is the first I could get back.”

“Well thanks for hanging out with the kid again. I was totally kidding when I said that, by the way.”

“No you weren’t.”

“I wasn’t?” I ask.

“No. I think you were testing me.”

“Is that right? Why would I be testing you?”

“To see if I’m an asshole athlete or if I’m as nice of a guy as you want to believe. And the answer is yes to both. I also know you want to have dinner with me. So, how about it? Will you have dinner with me? This Saturday?”

“I will. If I can find a babysitter.”

Nolan laughs. He’s a cocky one that’s for sure. “You have babysitters crawling this place. And a nanny. So shall I pick you up at 6?”

“That sounds like a plan,” I say, smiling. “I can’t be out too late, you know? I hope you don’t take it personally if I turn into a pumpkin, early.”

“I understand. I mean, not exactly. I don’t have any kids. But I get the gist. I’ll have you home at a reasonable hour, I promise. How does Deetjen’s sound?”

“Perfect,” I say. “Thank you for coming by and babysitting for a few minutes.” I put my hands out to Jackson – who never turns down an opportunity to be held by his mama. Except he turns away, by turning into Nolan, putting his arms around his neck. But then, as if it’s a joke, he giggles. “Jackson Ford, you brat. It’s time for a nap, Bubba. Come on.” Jackson giggles again and then Nolan tickles him. Pretty soon, Jackson is in fits of laughter as Nolan teases him and pretends over and over that he’s dropping him.

Becky, Jackson’s nanny, breaks the spell. She’s just arrived for the day and as I’ve asked her to do, she takes charge without asking for direction. “Hey kiddo. It’s time for your nap!” Becky, one of Jackson’s favorite people in all of the world, is enough to break up the laugh fest.

“Looks like the boss is here, Bud. You have a good nap, okay?” he says to Jackson.
Becky reaches for Jackson and whispers, “Say bye-bye.”
Jackson, my sweet boy, who babbles a lot, but rarely speaks clearly, says, “Bye-bye!” It’s as clear as day.

“Always full of surprises,” I say, kissing him on his cheek. “Bye, bye baby,” I say.

“Bye-Bye, ma-ma!” he says waving. The tears well up in my eyes and spill down my cheeks. This kid. I blow him a kiss as they walk off toward Becky’s car. Sometimes the littlest things take my breath away. I can’t believe he’s mine.

Before I can wipe my tears or figure out what to say, Nolan reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handkerchief. Such an old-fashioned gesture, from such a tough looking guy.

“Here,” he says. He doesn’t take his eyes off me. He reaches out and puts his huge hand on my arm. He squeezes my arm a little. “I’ll see you Saturday evening.”

“See you, Saturday,” I say, smiling. I clearly don’t know where this is going, but for the first time since Gray walked out on the life we were building, I’m ready to find out.

Everything Made Sense Again

This is an excerpt of my novel, A Thousand Years.

The day everything made sense again, the sweat dripped down my shirt, pooling between my breasts and running down my back. I longed for a swift and harsh southern thunderstorm to rip through town, cooling everything in its wake – including me. But I’m not that lucky. Standing in the center of town, I turn around in a circle taking in the bustle of a town getting ready for its tricentennial. My tiny staff is directing and guiding city employees in the finishing touches. Our official celebration kicks off in two hours and marks a week of events – most planned by yours truly. I told my staff earlier today that I couldn’t function unless I’d showered before the kickoff. But it’s August in North Carolina. I am sopping wet again. August in the south is about as close to hell as one can get. Even here in the mountains – especially this year – a scorcher for the record books. I guess there’s really no point to worry over this, everyone’s in the same boat.

As if on cue, a bolt of lightning lights up the ever-darkening sky and thunder quickly follows on its heels. The deluge begins then. I race across the street & duck into The Filling Station, but not before the rain has soaked me to the bone. Macy, the new owner, is behind the counter. I head toward her hoping I don’t look as bad as I feel. “What can I get you, Birdie? An iced-coffee maybe? I know you’ve got a long week ahead, maybe have a seat and dry off a minute, before getting sucked into the craziness?”

“I think I’ll take you up on that offer,” I say, as water drips onto the black and white checkered tile of the town’s oldest café. “It’s probably best if I stand here though. I’m sopping wet.”

“Eh. Don’t worry about it,” she says, pointing to an open barstool at the end of the counter. I sit down and moments later, Jess, one of the servers, walks out with a towel and hands it to me.

“Thank you, sweetie,” I say, taking the towel and wiping down my bare legs and arms and then slowly patting my head with the towel – feeling a little weird doing so at the busiest restaurant in town.

Johnny, the former owner and now sometimes cook and barista, when he’s not fishing or hunting – that is, walks out of the kitchen. Without missing a beat he says, “You look like a drowned rat, Birdie.”

“Thanks, Mr. Johnny. That’s exactly the look I was going for.” He hands me my coffee and as usual, he’s added a little extra flair of chocolate and caramel sauce on the whipped cream – just for me. I love my town.

Only me. Only I would be drenched from head to toe – today of all days. After checking on my hair and makeup in the bathroom, I grab my coffee and head back outside. Now that the storm has passed, the steam roils and rolls in smoky wisps from the asphalt. The air is cooler, but only slightly. I cross the street and set my drink down on the gazebo bench and stand in the sun, hoping my clothes will dry quickly all the while contemplating if I have enough time to get the two blocks to my house for a quick change. I look at my phone and then all around. Everything is done. My staff, the city employees, and volunteers have done an incredible job. We are ahead of schedule. I slip off my flats, grab my coffee in the other hand, and run toward home.

Good thing I had a back-up outfit ready. Once in the house, I race to the bedroom, thankful that my old house has a new AC unit. It is gloriously cool inside. I slip on my white eyelet Michael Kors dress. Since it’s already rained, I’m willing to tempt fate with the white. I grab my espadrilles on the bedroom floor and as I step into the hallway, the doorbell chimes through the house. What a racket that thing makes. Note to self – it’s time to get a new doorbell before I leave on vacation. I come around the corner and through the glass on my door I make out the form of a man. That looks like Graham, I think, as a I reach for the door and open it.

“Gray?” I ask – as if the past few years have somehow made me forget what the love of my life looks like.

“Hi. I know this is crazy. But I needed to see you. Can we talk?”

“Now? I’m kind of busy. I mean, I can’t talk now. You always did have shitty timing. I have this event. I have to go – “I say, shaking my head as if this mirage of a man standing in front of me will disappear.

“I know. I’m here because I saw you on the news. I was in the café when you came in. I’m not going to lie. I obviously can’t. I followed you here. I knew I had to take my shot. I can stay and talk to you afterward. Or when you have a free moment. I can just hang out. I need to talk to you – please?”

“I guess. I – I have to get moving,” I say as I pull the door shut, locking it and slipping my keys into my dress pocket. Graham follows me down the steps. I don’t wait for him. I take off in a jog, leaving him behind. I mean, I barely jog. He’s a runner, runner. Like ultra-marathon runner. It’s not like he can’t catch me. But I do it anyway. I don’t look back. Kind of like I did after the last time I saw him.

Within seconds of leaving my porch, the town square comes into view. It’s then that I realize my phone has been buzzing and pinging with texts and alerts. In the brief time it took me to get home, change, and head back – the park has filled with residents, the tourists that pay the bills, and former residents. And who can forget the media? I practically had to pay them to come. But whatever. They’re here. I stop jogging and drop my shoes on the concrete. I slip into them and bend down to buckle them. When I stand up, I try to sneak a glance behind me. Gray is nowhere in sight. I’m relieved. He has the worst timing – always has – since literally the day we met.

Lacey Mays

written by elaina m. avalos

When Lacey Mays was five-years old, just days before she started Kindergarten, her father killed himself. If anyone in the county had been asked, they would have said it was only a matter of time that either Bob or Donna Mays would have ended up dead. They fed more than one of each other’s addictions and spent years on a downward spiral of hopelessness. On that summer evening in 1988, Bob Mays had finally had enough. Lacey’s daddy lay crumbled in a heap of blood and brain matter, just inside the kitchen. Lacey saw the whole thing from start to finish. And when her mama flew past her, out the front door, instead of staying there with her only daughter, somehow, in all of her too grown up-ness, Lacey knew she had lost both parents.

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Moments before running home, she’d heard her mama’s voice, high and floating on the late afternoon wind. She thought it was nap time. And yesterday, her daddy had taken the paddle out and beat her bottom until she couldn’t sit, because she’d ignored her mama. She wouldn’t make that mistake again. Her white sandals carried her as fast as her little feet could run – toward the peeling paint of their two bedroom clapboard house. A house as deep into Pamlico County, North Carolina as a house could be. It wasn’t until she was in the doorway, one foot on the hardwood floor of the living room, the other still on the porch that she’d realized that Donna Mays wasn’t calling for her. She was screaming. She was screaming in a way Lacey had never heard before. Her daddy pointed a gun at her mama. She yelled out, “Don’t. Don’t do this!” And then, before Lacey’s mother could finish her sentence, a crack-pop filled Lacey’s ears and the room.

Her father fell to the floor. In one split instant, Lacey tried to believe, as her innocent-self commanded her to believe, he would be okay. And then, when her mama turned to see her in the doorway, her wild eyes filled with that thing that overtook her when she was high, she knew. She knew what her innocent-self could not. Her daddy was gone. Donna Mays stood paralyzed for a moment in the doorway between the living room and the dining room, tears running down her face. She started to move towards the front door and her daughter. But she ran past Lacey – out the door and toward the woods at the edge of the property.

Lacey, too grown for five and yet not, steeled herself in the way Donna Mays was not capable. She ran to her daddy and dropped to her knees. It wasn’t really him anymore, his face unrecognizable and distorted. The screaming came from deep inside her five-year old self. She turned to the door to see the bright pink of her mama’s shirt slip into the woods. Every last ounce of child left in Lacey’s heart and mind, slipped right out of her then. In her newfound adulthood, she stood and picked up the phone from a side table.

She dialed 9-1-1 like her Grandma and Grandpa had taught her, like she was supposed to do when her parents were hurting each other or when she couldn’t wake her mama as had happened on more than one occasion in the past. She dialed and waited for the person on the other end to answer. And just like that, when the helper answered, Lacey packed up her heart in a box and buried it deep into the dark soil of her mind where it would remain hidden from sight. Her reply to the calm woman on the other end of the phone line, “My daddy is dead.” By the time the paramedics, sheriff, and her grandparents arrived, Lacey Mays had become someone else entirely, someone she had never been created to become. It took the local sheriff’s four hours to find Donna Mays. She lay in a heap of her own vomit, deep into the woods. But it didn’t matter that she’d been found, as far as Lacey was concerned.

Sea Glass Hearts

Elaina Avalos, fiction, author, #amwriting

I am made of salt and sand and the deep jade green of the Atlantic. The salt air courses through my veins. This place, these waves, the sea glass and shells with rounded edges, beaten constantly in the surf, are the pieces and places of my very soul. The heady scent of the ocean air tells me I’m finally home, though I’m not at all conscious of having lived near this shore. In the setting sun of a July evening, the billowing thunderheads in the distance play with the sun. Shadows and light dance on the surface of the ocean at once bringing out the sparkle, and then moments later shrouding the light in darkness. “So this is it?” I ask no one. Home. The word and all of its implications fill me with competing emotions. I look back towards the car, parked a hundred yards away in the parking lot of the town’s traffic circle. It’s the center of this beach town, on the Southern Outer Banks of North Carolina.

I turn back to the ocean and breathe deeply, taking it all in. Just up the road is the house I bought, sight unseen, sitting first row, pointed towards the sea. I have spent a lifetime, nearly thirty-eight years, dreaming of what it would be like to find the place where I began, to return to my beginnings. To the place where I had been knit together in my mother’s womb. When I was a child, before I had been adopted and floated between countless foster and group homes, I made day trips to the beaches of Southern California. In the course sand of those crowded beaches, I convinced myself that I might as well have been a mermaid for all I really knew. One thing I knew for sure, in the deepest part of my being? I belonged to the sea.

Somehow, as I would stand there, as a kid, wearing my church charity last year’s style bathing suit, I knew that the sea called me, and would continue to call me . . . home.

Written By Elaina M. Avalos