Once I’m booked, I’m shoved into a cell with no one to call to get me out. Serena’s in Hawaii with Trent, Caleb is God knows where, and I’d call Beck or Ruby but I never got their numbers. Who the hell do I know who would fork out the one thousand dollars needed to post as bond to bail me out?
As I lay there in the tiny jail cell, suited up in an Orange County prison shirt, it occurs to me how far I am from the road I started on in life, far from where my mother would want me to be. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be chained up like a criminal. Fuck—I need to get out of here. Leaning my head against the bars, I know there’s only one person I can call—one person who possibly couldn’t think any worse of me than she already does.
Back at the desk, I squeeze my eyes shut as I dial the number and the phone rings. When she answers I’m both surprised and relieved. “It’s me, Ben. I need your help. I’ve been arrested.” It comes out on a rush full of shame and regret. My voice is low, maybe too low for her to hear because there’s no response. I repeat myself, this time louder.
“I’m here. I can hear you, Ben.”
Sometime later, in the early hours of the morning, I’m taken back to the booking area where I’m asked to sign a release form. What is this—my get out of jail free card? I still can’t believe I’m even here. The officer explains how lucky I am that my level wasn’t bumped up to .08. He says that I’m free to go. I glance above and silently say thank you. I’ve learned my lesson. I’m handed my clothes and the rest of my shit and directed toward the bathroom. When I come out, I hand back the orange shirt and I’m ushered through a door. Once I get through it, I’m on my own. It must be the central admittance area. It’s crowded. There are people everywhere. I look around and there she sits, on a black upholstered bench—Dahl.
My body starts to shake. I can’t believe she’s actually here for me. I cross the room, slowly; my walk is full of shame. She meets me halfway and when I lift my head, our faces are so close. I stare at her, the face of the girl I knew my whole life, and all I see, all I want from her is comfort and understanding—I want her to be my friend, I need her. Her eyes lock on mine. Her gaze is unyielding and I feel like she’s studying me. Nothing comes out of my mouth. I have no words.
“Come on,” she says. “Let’s go somewhere and talk.”
She leads and I follow, her converse sneakers squeaking against the shiny green floor. The exit doors slide open and she fumbles in her purse, pulling out her keys. Finally, I turn to look at her before she starts the car and swallow the lump in my throat. “Thank you for bailing me out.”
“Ben,” she says. “I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you.”
I shake my head. It wasn’t her job to be there for me.
Her fingers fly to her cheeks and she wipes away a few tears. “But, I am now. I want to help you.” Her hand finds mine in the early morning light and as she squeezes it, all I can think is—I am so thankful for her just being here.
She breaks our connection quickly and twists the key in the ignition. “I read the diary you gave me last year,” she says. “Before I came to get you, I read through it. I’m just sorry I didn’t read it sooner. And I want to find a way for us to be in each other’s lives.”
My gaze travels over her face and once again her eyes meet mine. In this moment I know we’re both silently agreeing that we are friends, that’s all—and honestly, I accept it. I’m okay with it.
As she turns out of the parking lot, I watch the large three story building fade from my vision and thank God I’m out of there. I rest my head back against the seat and close my eyes. I pay no attention to where she’s taking me. Dahl turns the radio off and we drive in silence. When she gets off at an exit, I open my eyes. We pass so many familiar places in Laguna Beach and a rush of memories from days long gone flood me. This town is our old stomping ground and we spent so much time here. She pulls into the corner coffee shop that I know so well and turns to look at me. “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”
She hops out of the car and I look around. I love this place. Why did I leave? This is where I belong. When she gets back in it’s with a tray of two coffees. The sun starts to rise as we sit in the parking lot and I tell her everything—everything that I hate in my life, everything I am, and everything that I don’t want to be. I even manage the excruciatingly embarrassing details. And most of all, I apologize. I apologize for the way I treated her when I first came back. I saw she had a new life and that she was happy, I should never have thought I could change that. I had to get it all out—to confess my sins, to cleanse my soul.
By the time we pull into my mother’s driveway I already feel a little more like myself. We get out of the car and she starts toward the old weathered plank bridge. I keep my distance, not wanting her to think anything other than how grateful I am for her help. She stops to wait for me before crossing and when I catch up, she grabs my hand and locks our thumbs, then leads me to the beach. This is the one place we always held hands. Every time we walked over this bridge our hands were connected, since we were five years old. But now, those fond memories are just that—memories. I look at the girl leading me and smile at the woman she has become.
The beach stretches for miles and we sit close to the shore. I throw myself back in the sand and cover my eyes with my arm. “What am I going to do, Dahl?”
She pulls her knees up to her chest and looks over at me. “Ben, it’s okay to grieve, it’s even okay to be a little lost, but you have a life in front of you. I can’t tell you what to do with it, but I hope whatever you decide makes you happy.”
Silence passes between us for a long moment as I think about what she’s said. “Are you happy?”
She stretches her fingers out and looks at her ring. Her face lights up. “Yeah, I am. Really happy.”
“Dahl, I know I’ve f**ked up a thousand times. But I am sorry for everything I did. I just need you to know all I ever wanted for you was for you to be happy.”
“I know that now, Ben. I may never understand it. But I get it.”
I sit up and bow my head.
She looks at me. “Ben,” she says softly.
I glance up at her.
“You need to figure out what is going to make you happy.”
“Yeah, happy. Shit, I don’t remember the last time I felt that way.”
Waves crash against the rocks and birds fly overhead squawking. I shift my eyes toward the water and we sit there in silence for the longest time, but it’s not uncomfortable or awkward.
“You know me so I’m going to tell it to you like it is—you need to get your head out of your ass and get on with your life because life’s too short not to.”
I can’t hold back my grin. That’s the girl who was always my friend—the one who told it like she saw it.
A few moments later, I see her shiver. I stand up and wipe the sand from my pants and then extend a hand. “Let’s get out of here.”
She takes it and I pull her up. And as we walk over the old weathered plank bridge, I turn and look back at the refuge I’ve sought so many times in my life and I know it’s where I belong.
Memorial Day weekend has always been one for barbeques and hanging out at the beach. That’s just what I plan to do.
My heart races as my hair whips in the wind. I run as fast as I can across the sand, my breathing heavy. I open my mouth wider to get more oxygen in my lungs.
“You got this Uncle Ben,” Trent cheers.
I come to a halt and look into the bright blue sky. Where is it? I shield my eyes from the sun and crane my neck further back. I follow the lead from the plastic in my hand to the string to . . . son of a bitch, there it is—the rainbow-colored diamond bobbing and weaving in the wind at least ten feet above my head. For a moment, I’m entranced. I watch as the kite dances wildly in the wind and beam at my nephew.
“We did it!” I shout.
“You did it,” he responds.
“Yeah, I guess I did,” I gloat.
“Boys, come on. That’s enough playing. It’s time to finish packing up,” Serena calls.
I look at Trent and shrug my shoulders. “Playtime’s over for now.”
“Fuck,” he says.
I tug the string down and the fabric loses its sail, descending immediately. When I’m close enough, I pop Trent in the back of the head.
He rubs it and looks at me questioningly. “What was that for?”
“Are you kidding me? You swear all the time.”
I grin at him. “Yeah, but that’s me. Not you. And you know how mad it makes your mother.”
“Alright, alright. I’ll try to keep it cleaner around her. I promise,” he responds.
I put an arm around his shoulder and walk with him up the beach toward the house. “Did I ever tell you about the time Grandma put a whole bar of soap in my mouth?”
He looks over to me. “My mom used to do that to me all the time when I was little.”
I laugh at the memory. “No, Trent, she did it the day I graduated high school.”
“Fuck, then that’s where my mom gets it from.” He laughs.
I pull his head to me. “Damn straight, so cut the f**king swearing already.”
“What’s so funny?” Serena asks, tugging the door to the rental truck down.
“Just boy talk. Nothing for you to worry about big sis,” I tell her.
“Right.” She smirks.
I nod my head toward the house. “Let me just give it a once over, then we’ll head out.”
She nods in response, moving to swipe Trent’s hair from his eyes.
I walk through my family’s house, which now seems so much emptier without some of my mother’s things, and slowly walk from room to room. My sister came back from Hawaii the minute I called her after my arrest and we both cried for forgiveness. I love her and I need her in my life—I finally told her that. We handled our grief in different ways, and I’m not saying either was right or wrong, but we now know we need to stick together no matter what.
We are all moving into the beach house for the summer and we’ll decide what to do with it in the fall. Right now we are donating some of my mother’s things to charity to make room for all of us to live there. This way I can train Trent and when the fall comes and he heads to the University of Hawaii, he’ll be ready to enter any surfing competition he wants.
As for Jason, he was involved in the case. When Caleb finally called me back almost two weeks after Bass told me that Hart was one of Jason’s informants, he confirmed that it was Jason who gave him the name. At first he told me Jason hadn’t worked the beat in years and just threw the name at him when he asked for someone to help him out, someone looking for money who was willing to take the fall. But I knew he was lying, I felt in my gut he was the missing piece of the puzzle.
When I confronted Jason, he pulled me aside. He told me to trust him. That he was way more involved than Caleb or I knew and he’d be able to tell me soon. Whether or not he is on the up and up—I still haven’t been able to figure that out.
I circle back through the living room and stand where my mother’s desk once stood. I look down at the n*ked space and it doesn’t feel right. I rush out the door and fly down the stairs.
“Serena, toss me the keys,” I tell her.
She looks at me. “Did you forget to pack something?”
“No, I decided I want to keep the desk.”
“Come on, Ben, it’s so old and broken. You can buy a newer, more functional one.”
“Just toss me the keys. I want that one.”