Once upon a time, before I ever thought I’d let anybody see this story, my heroine tucked a daisy behind her ear and kicked off her shoes. I still remember that day, because I was writing in my unlined sketch pad at the Seattle airport, with the sun shining through the five-story picture window where you can watch the planes take off and land. It was one of those magical days in the beginning where, word by word and page by page, I fell in love with writing.
Many things have changed in this story since then, but my heroine is still barefoot and wearing daisies. This is one of the places she led me:
It was one of the first warm days after a long winter of cold and rain. Libra took her shoes off, and felt the cool cement floor of the sandwich shop beneath her toes, glad that her long skirt covered her feet. Some of the customers frowned on the waitresses walking around barefoot. Didn’t they understand, shoes were stuffy, they hurt your feet, it was so much more natural to be barefoot? Once the bras were burned, the shoes were the next to go.
That was enough to put Libra in a good mood, so when the young man sitting in the corner with a guitar propped up in the chair next to him smiled at her, she smiled back. Not that she usually smiled at strangers. It usually got her into trouble.
She sauntered up to him, avoiding his blatant stare. “Would you like to see a menu? Or are you just here for the view?”
He smiled, captivating, and seeming unused to being rebuffed said, “A beer for now. But keep the tab open, won’t you?”
“Sure thing…” Her feet betrayed her, wanting to stay, when her head told her she had other customers waiting.
She brought him the beer, frothing and chilly between her fingers. He directed her to set it at the end of the table, as far from the guitar he now held on his knee as she could. For the rest of the lunchtime rush he seemed preoccupied with his guitar and his pencil, making hasty scratches on his notebook. Sometimes he held the pencil in between his teeth while he played.
He wore one of those frilly white shirts, a poet’s shirt that some of the folk singers appropriated for their look. His sandy blond hair hung almost to his shoulders, in studied neglect. His skin was too smooth, his muscles too firm, to fully convince her that he hailed from the streets. Another pretender that drifted into the beaches of Venice attracted by the artist vibe, only to be driven away by the craziness. His boots gave him away. Fine Italian leather, smooth, polished, silver-buckled. Far too expensive for a person of the street.
A table full of bawdy fraternity kids kept her busy, calling her back because their french fries were cold, and to refill their seemingly bottomless mugs. They grabbed her sometimes, begging her to join them after her shift, and asked if they could have the daisy she wore tucked behind her ear. The worst part was, guys like this never tipped. They probably thought she liked serving them. Free love didn’t include not tipping the waitresses.
“I’ll take that hamburger now,” the young man with the guitar called as she walked past him, with considerably less bounce in her step than she had before lunchtime.
She spun to look at him. “I’ll be right with you.” She’d spoken too fast, and regretted it when she saw the disappointment in his eyes.
“Never mind then.” He was fitting the guitar back into its case with exquisite care, like one might handle a lady, or a delicate child.
“Sorry,” she said. She grasped the pockets of her apron, searching for the order pad. “It’s been one of those days.” She shook her head as she pulled the pad out of the bottom pocket, rifling through it to a new page.
“I’ll come back another day then.” He smiled distantly, his eyes on the grey ocean only a few hundred feet from the restaurant. The water was dotted with surfers on brightly colored boards, yellow and red and blue.
She closed her eyes, and breathed. She tried to concentrate, like she’d read in the Kama Sutra. Breathing, whispering her mantra. Sky. Picturing the blue expanse of nothing. Emptying the bad thoughts. “Please, stay? The place is empty now. I won’t be rushed.”
He seemed to consider her request. “A quarter pounder then. Well done, with everything, the works. Something easy.”
“Anything to drink with that?”
“Whatever you’re having will be perfect.”
A few minutes later, she returned with the plate, overflowing with french fries and an oversized hamburger and set it next to the two beers she’d brought on her last trip. Without meeting his eyes, she pulled out the wooden chair across from him and sat. Her feet thanked her instantly, the soles burning hot despite the cool weather.
He lifted the beer to his lips first. She didn’t follow suit and watched him drink from the corner of her eye, pretending to observe the surfers, standing on their boards, and then crashing, one by one, into the water.
“You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to,” he said. “We can pretend we already know each other.”
Stay tuned for part two!