Seattle, Washington State, August 2011
It was dusk when JD arrived at the beach house. He parked on the grassy verge of the hill above it, next to a beat-up beige minivan. The sunset was breathtaking and he sat in the truck watching the molten gold and crimson drama play itself out over the ocean. He wound down the window and breathed the salt tang of the air. A Nirvana song came on the radio. I’m home, he thought, trying the words out to see whether they fit. Seven years was a long time to be away.
He got out of the truck, rolling his shoulders and neck to relieve the stiffness caused by hours of freeway driving. A sliver of anxiety lodged in his gut as he opened the wooden gate with its rusty iron numbers that matched those scrawled on the piece of paper in his hand. His sneakers crunched on the gravel path.
The small house pressed its contours against the gathering darkness like an animal hunkering down for the night. A light shone in the window. The front stoop was decorated with stacks of white shells and a hanging mobile made out of fishing line, driftwood and multicolored bits of sea glass.
JD knocked on the door and waited, but there was no response. He knocked again and started when a dark shape appeared in the window. A black cat stood on the sill observing him, the tip of its tail twitching. It rubbed its body against the glass and arched its back, as though being stroked by an invisible hand.
Perhaps the place was haunted. JD jigged in place. He really needed to take a leak. It looked as if he’d be bedding down in the truck tonight. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time. He had a down sleeping bag stowed behind the front seat that would keep him warm, even on a cool Seattle summer night.
JD headed for the nearest bush and unzipped his jeans. It was a huge relief to get the 7-11 Big Gulp out of his system.
Behind him, the porch light came on.
“Hello? Who’s out there?”
In his haste to zip up, JD almost wet himself. Turning, he saw the figure of a woman in a white shift dress standing in the open doorway.
“Sorry,” he stammered. “I didn’t think anyone was home.” He wiped his palms on his jeans and walked toward her, but decided against offering his hand. She shrank back at the sight of him, and he didn’t blame her. With two days of stubble on his chin and road-weariness infiltrating his every pore he wasn’t at his most presentable. “I’m JD. Parker’s friend from high school.” Please God, let Parker have mentioned me to this girl.
“JD.” Her eyes gleamed in the shadows like two dark pools. “What’s that stand for?”
“James Douglas. Last name’s Caldwell.”
The cat slipped out of the house and took a couple of running steps toward him. JD stooped and held out his hand. “Here, kitty.” She moved forward to sniff his fingers. “Pretty kitty,” he said, rubbing behind her ears. “I forgot how cold it can be here in the summer. I haven’t been this far north in a while.”
“Where are you from?”
“Here, originally. But I’ve been living in L.A. for years”
“And now you’re back.”
“Yeah. Starting over. Parker said I could maybe crash here for a few days…”
Her face closed up. She retreated into the house and he thought she might close the door in his face. Instead, she crooked her head to one side. “You better come in.”
“Thank you. Thank you very much,” he said, relieved. Maybe Parker would come home soon and save him from this awkward situation.
He stepped into a large room that comprised mudroom, kitchen, living and dining room in one. A row of Shaker-style wooden pegs by the door held a black knit cardigan, a long scarf and an umbrella. The kitchen was a narrow galley directly in front of him, separated from the rest of the room by a long counter. On the opposite side of the counter were two barstools; behind them, a rectangular wooden table with four chairs. A fat ceramic vase on the table overflowed with yellow roses in full bloom. Against the far wall was a rumpled couch covered with a cream-colored slip cloth. Two bookshelves made out of cinderblocks and two-by-fours held an assortment of books and clay vessels. There was no television. The room was painted white and had an airy, open feel. A large seascape against the back wall showed a Pacific Northwest beach at high tide, framed on either side by rocky cliffs. The waves rolled out to the horizon, drawing the viewer into the painting.
“Would you like something to drink?”
“A glass of water.”
She gestured to one of the barstools. “Sit down. I’ll get it.”
She pulled a mason jar from the open shelving above the sink and filled it from the tap. Her caramel-colored hair was tied in a messy topknot from which long tendrils escaped like curling ribbons.
She handed him the jar and leaned her elbows on the counter, fixing him in her sights. Her eyes were hazel, flecked with gold.
“So, what’s your story, JD?”
“Yes. What are you doing here?”
Her directness unnerved him. “Well, I was hoping…” he started. “Parker said…” He stopped and flung up his hands, irritated with his absent friend. Obviously he hadn’t said anything to his girlfriend about him or she wouldn’t be so damn suspicious. “Where is Parker, anyway?”
“I don’t know. I kicked him out. It was, oh, about a month ago.”
JD gaped at her. “You kicked him out?”
She tossed her head. “It wasn’t working out between us. I know he’s your friend and all, so I won’t go into details.” She gave him a hard look. “Did you ever live with Parker?”