The night air is warm as I cross the bridge to the beach. I make my way to the rocks and sit. Raising my head, I watch the momentary sonic boom that fills the sky. I think about my life and the choices I’ve made, finally understanding I can’t change any of them. I can only move forward, which I’m trying to do each and every day. Streaks of color cross the sky and I lean back on the rocks to absorb the sounds of the fireworks in the darkness of the beach. I watch the sky come alive with so many vibrant hues, starbursts of color, and showers of light. And as ribbons of smoke blur the sky, I can say for the first time in a long time, my path is clear.
3 months later
The one year anniversary of my mother’s death
Tonight journalists from all around the state came to see me receive the award I was originally supposed to get three years ago. At first I intended to turn it down when they approached me again. I reminded myself that it was a time I’d tried hard to forget. But then after I thought about it I decided, yes, I wanted it. I felt I had earned it.
News of the drug cartel’s trial coming to a successful end had swept the airwaves. Senior management at the Los Angeles Times took notice and decided they wanted to honor me with the honor I was supposed to receive, but never did, almost four years ago—California’s Journalist of the Year Award. They wanted to, and I quote, “Highlight my brilliant work in underground crime investigation.”
I was nervous as hell. When I wrote my speech, I’d decided I would approach the award with levity. I’d tucked a not ecard into my back pocket. But as I moved to take the podium, I decided to change gears and approach it with honesty instead. I strode across the stage and took a deep calming breath.
The podium stood shorter than I imagined and as I pulled the microphone toward me, I glanced around the room. Food was being ushered out to the tables and I knew my time was limited. So with sweaty palms I gripped the wooden sides of the stand and spoke. But before long my attention was taken elsewhere and I paused. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted her as soon as she entered the room. Her red hair flowed past her shoulders and her tight green dress seemed to hug her body in all the right places. I made a mental note that she seemed to wear green a lot. It looked good on her. I realized I’d stalled and I cleared my throat.
I glanced across the many faces in the room and found hers again immediately. Her mouth took on a scowl as she took notice of me watching her and then she quickly turned away. But it didn’t take long until I scanned the room for her again. She was pointing to a number of trays on a table and directing where she wanted them. The more I watched her, the faster my heart beat. Words spilled mindlessly from my mouth as my ears rung from the thudding echoing in them. When I shifted my gaze to follow her movement, I noticed some of the women dabbing their napkins under their eyes. I could only assume my heartfelt words had moved them. But when I saw S’belle pick up one of the black linen napkins and do the same, the thought that she’d listened to my speech for some reason rather than tuning me out—it took my breath away. I finished my speech.
My last words came out softly as the syllables caught in my throat. Applause reverberated through the grand ballroom and I closed my eyes for a few moments absorbing everything. When I opened them a grin crossed my lips. But my smile wasn’t for the strangers who surrounded me or even for my friends before me. It was for the red-headed girl in the back of the room whose gaze kept flickering over mine.
As I exited the stage holding tightly to the award in my hand, I took the steps one at a time and kept my eyes focused on her. With each step I took I couldn’t help but notice that her eyes were locked on mine . . . green to blue. In them I saw a reflection from so long ago, of a memory I’ve never forgotten. And although I wasn’t available to her the first time we met, and I wasn’t in the right mind space the second time we met, I think everything is different now. And I can honestly say . . . the future has never looked brighter.