Monday, April 29, 2013

Truly (chapter three: "How the Great Love Affair Began")

Chapter Three
How the Great Love Affair Began
We met near the crash and burn of the ocean.  Above us, a plane flew across the sky, far away from this place…
Confessions of a Post-teenage Hermit
      Okay, I may have given you a false impression; time to set things straight. No one should feel sorry for me. First of all, I am now officially employed most mornings at The Beach Shack, my favorite café overlooking the sea along the main boulevard of Wentworth. My cousin Keira manages this place. Like me, she’s kind of the black sheep in her family. Unlike me, her family are kind and generous and proud of her. It is from this lofty countertop that I can start to tell you all about the story of my young life, how I met Ben, fell in love with Ben, lost Ben (yes yes yes all of that is included) but also about my family and the picturesque coastline I grew up visiting.
      When I was small, my family owned real estate in a vast connection of Los Angeles streets, but it was the sprawling, ostentatious Bel Air mansion that my father liked most. My mother, on the other hand, enjoyed shifting with the seasons. She was from an old, eccentric European family but liked to roam around Venice Beach on weekends with me and my sisters after she’d finished shopping along Rodeo Drive. We took long trips together and one summer Mom discovered a tiny coastal town called Wentworth, not far from Los Angeles and fell in love with it.
    My parents were polar opposites, so their split, a few years later, was not a total surprise. My Mom liked picnics, markets and the beach, amongst other things. My father preferred expensive restaurants, designer stores and playing tennis at his stuffy country club. He owned an office block near Rodeo Drive and frequented The Hide Out (my sisters and I named the company-owned apartment because it was the place my father’s dalliances with his secretary took place) way out in the Hills. When we were growing up, Dad lived a life of careless disregard for the feelings of others and excessive monetary wealth gave him power he mostly abused. He was also almost as vain as my sisters and never met a mirror he didn’t like. Finally my mother had enough of his philandering and his selfishness; two ‘vices’ as she put it, one in the same.
     My mother returned to New York and my sisters and I became bi-coastal. As I grew up, my older sister Liz was left in charge of Melissa and me (a lot). When we were in our father’s care, his lack of parental supervision allowed me to effectively raise myself. In many ways I was a scholarly and quiet child. I was often found reading and scribbling whilst Melissa and Liz jostled for supremacy in front of the full length mirrors of their adjoining bedrooms, trying on our mom’s discarded designer outfits. There was only a year between us all, so we shared clothes as often as we jostled for parental attention.
     My sisters never showed any interest in the animal shelter I volunteered at when I was growing up and even less interest in the various dogs and cats I adopted and brought home. The good thing about my Dad is that he liked Sable, our part Persian cat; color: cream, coat: long, texture: fluffy and Muffin, our part boxer part something else rescue dog; color: tan, coat: short haired, texture: wrinkly. Most of the dogs are mixed with something else. It’s a sad fact of life but the pure breeds never get left by the roadside. I love my mutts, though. Sable and Muffin are the most gorgeous pets any person could want.
    It’s kind of strange that my Dad has a soft spot for them. I say “strange” because he doesn’t have a soft spot for any other living creature – although he’s quite fond of my older sister Liz. She’s made him proud since my Mom left; she’s sort of taken over. Before the financial crisis my father lived an extravagant life. Let’s face it, my sisters and I were spoiled; just not with any obvious displays of affection.   
    As our carbon footprint grew, so too, did we grow, living in a fancy house with plenty of food to eat and nice manners reserved for important people and lavish dinner parties. The Bel Air mansion where I grew up was effectively a house of women ruled by one man, my father. There were often producers and directors along with the actors wandering into the house in various stages of disrepair.
     Liz, my older sister, has been absent more than present. She only recently returned to LA, after going away to college on the East Coast. Melissa, my sister, younger by one year, had her own ideas and her own set of friends. As we grew up, we grew apart, and we’d never been close to begin with. Melissa married the first rich guy who asked her. She explained to my parents that she was so in love” she couldn’t resist and they approved of her choice, though she was only eighteen.
    The summer house, Kellynch, has been in the family since my great-great-grandfather migrated from England to establish one of the big movie studios California would one day become known for. Over time, the family sold off parts of the land overlooking the beach; land that had been my family’s history, my father told me (my mother was not impressed with American history) for a hundred years. This was forever time in my world. My great-grandfather had married a European heiress to replenish the family fortune after the Depression but the money had long-since been depleted through the decades and divorces (my family was known for divorces and depression problems – “it’s just who we are” my mother informed me) before she went to New York to “fulfil her potential”).
   Anyway, we were still seriously rich up until a few weeks ago. Big deal, as you may have noticed we’ve been poor in most of the things that matter. There were family portraits in the hallway of the Bel Air mansion (I always called it that when I was older) of my great-great-grandparent’s wedding. My great-great-grandmother was pictured in her wedding gown; white lace dripping over her shoulders like she was drowning in snow whilst saying her vows (as if there would ever be snow in Los Angeles!).  As a little girl, I looked at her sepia image and wondered how happy she had been on that day. They never smiled back then.
    At sixteen, I believed in the perfect love. Mostly, I have Ben to thank for that.     
    Ben Wentworth’s family also had some claim on the seaside town that was named after his ancestors. Although Ben’s family had emigrated from war-torn Europe, they had once owned most of the beach side real estate until it was sold up over the years and the family assets were decimated in the same way my family’s assets had been enhanced. 
    One summer, Ben Wentworth was new in town and he volunteered to help the life guards near The Beach Shack on Saturdays. He’d made headline news amongst the summering teenagers because he was nearly famous. Ben had played a role on a children’s television show that filmed along the beach that summer (his aunt was the casting director) and he was officially on his own while he filmed the series. The production paid for him and the rest of the cast to stay in modest accommodation near the beach and on his days off he’d be surfing with his brother Harley and their friends, hanging out on the beach without their on-set chaperone. I’d noticed him loads of times but never had the courage to speak to him.
    I was way too shy to become an actor or a model like my sister Elizabeth; and as my father assured Liz when he thought I was out of earshot, “Jane’s not nearly decorative enough. I mean, she’s pretty but she lacks that certain… star quality. She can barely manage to speak up for herself in company. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with her. Perhaps she has one of those modern conditions…”
    “Aspergers?” my older sister ventured.
    “That’s not funny Liz…. I can hear you…” I yelled from the kitchen as I helped stack the dishwasher.
    “Ah, she speaks,” my father said, in one of his rare displays of humor
     I was used to the hurtful comments Dad found amusing and usually did my best to ignore them. I’d take off after I’d arrived home to go up to my room and write. I loved that summer in Wentworth and I refused to let my family ruin it. I’d seen Ben for the first time, the weather was almost always clear, the sky a perfect blue.  My aunt and uncle had bought the coffee shop along the boulevard and renamed it The Beach Shack. The place served good coffee. It housed perfect light and benches for me to use while I wrote in my blog.
    Ben had finished filming the television show by then and attended the local high school. My sisters and I were preparing to go to boarding school after summer. We’d previously attended high school in Los Angeles (The Los Angeles High School for Young Ladies or HSYL) with our cousins. HSYL was a notoriously snobbish place filled with stuck up girls from rich families like mine. The difference between our old school and our new school, Hallowed Halls (HH), was that HH was co-educational. My Godmother insisted that Hallowed Halls would be better for forming social connections. Our cousins still attended HSYL but were transferring to Sunrise High – where the notoriously mean Princesses, a social group only comparable to the Socials in our select new boarding school, ruled.
    That summer I religiously took Muffin (who was just a puppy) for his morning walk along the boardwalk from our beach house. I’d stop off at the café to write; anything to get away from my family as breakfast was a noisy affair inevitably resulting in an argument.
     Sometimes I’d meet up with my cousins, Keira, Lia, Hailee, Ella and Kate, and their parents along the way. Keira was the cousin I was closest to and we were so alike we’d become close friends over the years. Together, we’d shop or go to the beach during summer and sometimes all the sisters would join us. It was always fun with them around and for some reason I got along with my cousins way better than my own sisters.
      I tried to write in my blog most days but often I wasn’t sure where to start. Back then, my journal was titled, Confessions of a Teenage Hermit. Original, I know. It was just before freshman year and my sisters and I were in the process of transferring from The Los Angeles High School for Young Ladies to Hallowed Halls. There was a more official sounding name but that was the name we called it. It had an ominous façade and dark lattice work, but a strangely modern, welcoming interior.
      I was excited to be getting out of my immediate area. After all, only summers were spent in Wentworth. The rest of the time I was in Beverly Hills and Bel Air and those streets, though lovely, were as familiar to me as air.
      When I wrote in my blog I usually added a few words and pictures describing the places and people I was acquainted with, “nothing of consequence” my father noted when he found one of my printed posts lying around in the living room of our beach house.  I wrote about meeting this cute boy (Ben) and how I’d probably never see him again.
    “Who’s the boy?” my sister Melissa giggled.
    I snatched the page away from my nosey little sister.
    My father showed less interest.
    I’d met Ben earlier, at The Beach Shack café and way before that when his father had worked for us. Ben was older now. I was fairly sure he’d have plenty of teenage girl admirers. It certainly seemed like he did if the text messages that kept beeping on his cell as he sat with his friends over lunch were anything to go by. I remember chewing the end of my pencil, as I tried to conjure up the structure of a particularly meaningful sentence. I was just looking at him walk out of the room and return.
    “You love to watch him go,” my cousin Lia (who was a year younger than me), added as she wrapped her hands around my face, to surprise me, giggling as she entered The Beach Shack. I blushed and looked away. 
     He’d had a slight smile when we met up again in the coffee shop that summer before my freshman year. 
     I was reading Sense and Sensibility.  It was one of my favorite Austen novels. After reading Little Women and all of the Brontes I’d now set myself the task of reading the complete works of Jane Austen. 
     “Hey, I’ve read that,” Ben said, as he leant over to help me retrieve my papers from the floor. Conveniently, a rare ocean breeze had swept them off my table after my cousins had left. I could not hide my surprise.
     “You’re the first boy I’ve ever met who’s read a Jane Austen novel,” I said, in disbelief. 
     “Well, I’m not exactly typical.” He leant in closer, “My agent was putting me up for a role in some British film, it’s Austen-inspired, so I had to school myself up.”
     “Wow. Did you get the part?”
     “Nah. Would I be hanging out on the beach if I got the part? They said I wasn’t the right type, wanted someone more like a teen Hugh Grant.”
    “And what are you?”
    “The casting agent described me as a teen Channing Tatum.”
    “Oh, please,” I said. It was true. Ben was so buff but I was barely out of middle school and wasn’t going to be the first to tell him. Lack of confidence was not his problem.
    “It’s okay; I’m over all of that. It was my aunt’s idea. She’s the agent. I think I’m going to concentrate on high school now. This acting gig was just a favor to her. All I’ve ever wanted to be is a pilot; a fighter pilot in the Air Force. I need perfect grades for that.” He pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket in the shape of a paper plane and glided it through the air.
     “Besides, I just got a letter. I’m going to Hallowed Halls in my junior year. I just won a full scholarship.”  
     “Wow. That’s where my sister and I are going to school this fall.”
     He considered my response and nodded.
     “It wasn’t my idea,” he continued, “I didn’t even submit the application, my parents did. But I need to do well at school and… that’s the best place to go… no distractions. They’re not enrolling me until junior year. My parents don’t want me moving away from home until I’m sixteen.”
    I could have told him mine were glad to see me go, but I didn’t. I was disappointed I wouldn’t get to see him again for another two years, if ever. Plans could change. 
    Just then a plane flew overhead beyond the windows of the café. We both stopped and watched it form a tiny blip in the distance.
    “That,” Ben said, “is pure freedom.”
    Wow, actor, waiter, officer-to-be. Was there anything this boy wasn’t or couldn’t be?
    “Rich,” my sister Melissa informed me when I told her about him that night. “I heard about his family. Sure, they founded Wentworth but now they are just poor relations. The Elliots bought up the town about twenty years ago so I don’t think you should tell Dad too much about your new best friend.”
     See what I mean about my family being elitist? I’m totally embarrassed for them, it started way back then.
     That night, as I lay on my bed in the beach house I finished blogging. I remembered Ben’s smile, his tan and his faded t-shirt. He looked like he’d been living outside his whole life. His hair was a blonde streaked, tousled mess. He smelt like flowers and sun. I remembered his parting words…
     “The story was kind of interesting. It’s what girls read, right? I have an older sister so I’ve acquainted myself with the female mind.”
     “Is that a joke?” I mumbled.
     “Just kidding. I’ve got an older sister and she left it lying around.” 
     “Oh, I have sisters too.”
     “Younger or older?”
      And our conversations continued like that, every morning for the next week until he turned up on my porch a month later.
      “Just like one of those strays you insist on bringing home,” my sister Liz noted.